Christian Fuentes, Metro Puerto Rico
This particular version of the NBA Finals has a bit more at stake than just the shiny gold trophy and the fancy rings (which by 2020 might be the size of a golf ball). A subplot of this championship round is the battle for legacies. Specifically, I’m talking about the legacy of one LeBron James. I’ll dare say that his legacy even overshadows that of a Golden State Warriors group that is looking to validate on a record 73-9 season with the title (which would be their second in a row). Since he’s been in the league, LeBron James has been, both unfairly and fairly, graded on the Michael Jordan scale. Unfairly, because no aspiring basketball player should have to live up to such Mount Everest-like expectations. Fairly, because he embraced the hype by calling himself “The King”, “The Chosen One”, and by wearing number 23, which was pretty inviting. Fast forward to 2016. James has the 2-4 Finals record hanging over his head. What would another Finals loss do to his legacy? No doubt, it will take him away from any top 5 conversations, because many pundits use the “winning” argument. Now, many greats were great and never won. LeBron won twice in a row earlier this decade. But there is something about the one he is looking for in Cleveland. That one would cement him even further. Now it’s early in the series vs. the Warriors and yes, they have been AWFUL. If they lose in six or seven, there is no shame in that. It’s what was expected. But if Cleveland has their behinds handed to them in five games or by sweep, LeBron won’t get a pass. Many thought this was the one (it could still be), because they had the whole team together. THIS JUST IN: Last year, with all the injuries, they were UP 2-1 in the series. And the unfairly fired David Blatt won a Finals game at Oracle Arena (let that sink in). The reality is that Golden State is the better team. But it’s LeBron’s legacy that hangs in the balance. There is NO DOUBT he is one of the best we’ve ever seen. His ability is unlike any these eyes have observed. He also has lived up (for the most part) to the hype he came with when he entered the NBA in 2003. However, on the Michael Jordan scale people keep grading him on, 2-5 isn’t even around the ankles (tell that to Jerry West, who went 1-8, and Elgin Baylor, who went 0-8).
With Game 3 of the NBA Finals coming up tonight and the Cleveland Cavaliers trying to avoid a historically impossible deficit to recover from 0-3, no player in the Cavaliers roster has more to lose than LeBron James. Out of the seven finals he has played in, this one is the most meaningful. More than his first appearance as a young star entering his prime in 2007, his first title in 2012 and even the improbable comeback against the Spurs in 2013. Why? Because this team was hand-picked by him. He chose to return to Cleveland, he pushed the team to trade Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love, he approved last year’s mid-season trades that brought the likes of Shumpert and Mozgov, he backed the team’s decision to fire David Blatt and promote Tyronn Lue to head coach, even though he mentioned he had nothing to do with it. In Miami, even though he was the unquestionable best player, he was a piece of Pat Riley’s puzzle. This time around he wanted to prove he could be not just a franchise player but THE franchise player, if it makes any sense. So what could a loss mean to his legacy? LeBron can lose 4 more straight finals and his place in history as one of the greats is secured based on individual numbers. But the chance of him fulfilling a promise to his hometown with a team he chose and a roster he molded would, without a doubt, launch him atop the list of biggest accomplishments in NBA history. The window to improve on his not that good 2-4 record on the biggest stage and separate him from the likes of Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain into the Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan tier is closing. The weight on his shoulders is big and everybody knows that regardless of what you may think on whether the hype surrounding him was self inflicted or not. Will his career be defined as a player with great individual accolades but not as successful on the big stage? We will have to wait and see. LeBron calls himself a basketball historian and I believe he knows that to be placed on the upper echelon in NBA history among the ultimate winners he needs more than numbers, he needs to win.