Alright, I understand this article is going to get me a lot of backlash. Won’t be the first time and I am pretty sure it won’t be the last. But I have got some things to say that go against popular beliefs. And as usual, I will back everything up with facts.
Now I’ll be the first to admit Lebron James is one of the top 10 players to ever play professional basketball. No matter how you slice it, he has been a dominant and prolific figure in the game for the past 12 years. There is not a noteworthy stat line anywhere where he does not land somewhere in the top 10. It’s easy to make the case that he is the best athlete to every play the game. But that’s just it. He’s the best athlete, not the best basketball player. There is a very, very big difference. And if this year’s NBA Finals did not exemplify that statement, people are simply not looking at this with an open mind.
Since he entered the NBA, Lebron has struggled with several key elements that the best players have all mastered. Most notably, he STILL cannot regularly score from the outside. When facing any and all adversity, his first and only reaction is to drive to the paint. He’s gifted with an almost unfair combination of size, speed, and athleticism, which he relies on to a fault. I mean for God’s sake, he’s 6’8″, 260 lbs and runs a 4.3 forty yard dash. He put on 45 lbs his first two years in the league (which was when he was 18-19 years old) while he suffered from significant hair loss and regular cramps. If that doesn’t scream human growth hormones, I don’t know what does. But that’s an article in and of itself. The point is the best player in the history of the game should not have to rely on his strength and size to score, but rather his skill and technique. Each year as he grows older and slower, his perimeter shooting continues to decline. I mean, can you imagine if someone with significantly more all-around offensive talent like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, etc. had his build? Let alone if you mentioned some of the REAL all time greats like Jordan, Bird, Kobe, and on and on. You can even flip the script. Who truly believes Lebron would be the player he is today if he was the size of an average forward in today’s game? At best, he’s no more than a Paul George or Rudy Gay, who are no slums, but are and will never be in the conversation of Greatest of All Time (GOAT). Now I’m not going to fault Lebron for being huge and using it to his advantage. We’d all do the same thing. But you cannot honestly sit there and tell me that his over-reliance on it has not compensated for his lack of offensive skill over the years.
When we talk about the GOAT, it’s much more than just statistics and championships. It’s what separates the players in the top 10. The intangibles. The things that are not measured on the stat sheet. The great Tom Seaver once said, “The intangibles are the deciding factors between who won and who lost”. The things that Lebron has constantly fallen short of. Whether it’s publicly calling out his teammates, blatantly criticizing his front office, or openly disrespecting his coaches, Lebron never quite fully matured from the 17 year old who entered the league way back when. But it didn’t stop then. Let’s keep it current. After reaching the Finals for seven consecutive years, he had the unmerited gull to actually scorn his front office via public press conferences on multiple occasions for not doing their part. This is of course despite the fact that not only had the Cleveland organization tallied up the most expensive roster in the league, but they broke the all-time record for the highest team salary in the 60-plus year history of the NBA. You’re going to the Finals every year, dominating your competition, and spending more money than any other team and still he walks up to those press conferences like a petulant child asking for more dessert.
And need I even mention, with the whole world watching, the taunting, mocking, and unprofessional spectacle he created to announce his move from Cleveland to Miami, scorning the fans by announcing his departure from the local Boys and Girls Club in the heart of the city that he grew up in. He self-proclaimed himself the “king” and went as far as to place a crown on his head. I mean who does that? And who the hell in debate for the GOAT? That is not a professional. That is not a leader. That is not the best. That is not a winning attitude. As someone who has led Marines on two combat deployments to Iraq, I can tell you those are not traits of an individual we would EVER want in a leadership position in any organization.
Everybody is so quick to blame Kevin Durant for forming the super teams that are allegedly “ruining the NBA”, but was Lebron’s partnership with Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, and a plethora of three point shooters not the super team that started the arms race? We blame the Warriors, but did they not draft Seth Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green? They did it the right way, by trusting the process and letting it play out. Not by taking the path of least resistance and joining your All-Star buddies in a significantly inferior conference, paving an unobstructed path to the Finals each year. And if he really had his way, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul were supposed to follow suit but decided to pursue other opportunities (AKA chasing the money) in their respective locations.
People say a large majority of fans are too quick to criticize Lebron and will be “haters” no matter what. But let’s flip the script. Why are we so quick to just issue him a pass with EVERYTHING?? Why is Lebron held to his own standard? There’s him, and then there’s the rest of the league? Can you not make the same argument?
When you compare some of the best players of all time, they usually have pretty similar statistics and they are all near the top of the list in most major record-keeping categories. So one of the key things to differentiate between them is their performance down the clutch. To this day, Lebron has yet to consistently perform in the 4th quarter. He freezes down the stretch far too often for someone who is in consideration for the GOAT. I could give example after example of how Lebron missed opportunities over and over again during his first stint in Cleveland, but I’ll keep it current. There’s a reason he earned the title “Lebrick”. Whether it’s a three point shot, free throws, or his all-too predictable “drive to the paint with reckless abandon like a high school full back” move, he is near irrelevant in the clutch. When the greats are so close to each other in all major categories, performance in clutch needs to be used as the tie breaker. I’m not saying Jordan is better than Lebrick because he was 6-0 in the Finals compared to Jame’s lackluster 3-5. I’m saying Jordan is better than Lebron because he had the killer instinct that we look for in the greats whereas Lebron simply does not. If you’re the best, you want the ball in your hands on the final possession. That’s why Jordan always took that last shot even though everyone knew what they were doing. That’s why Tom Brady threw every pass on the game-winning, overtime drive that ultimately won them last year’s Super Bowl. Two games into this year’s Finals, Lebron was accepting defeat by saying the Warriors team is “unfair” and the Cavaliers are “under-matched underdogs”. If Wilt or Magic or Bird or Jordan or Oscar ever said anything even close to that, we’d take them to the hospital to check their temperature. It’s simple, the best make plays, not excuses.
In my opinion there are better players in the NBA right now that have that clutch gene. Kyrie’s got it, Westbrook’s got it, Harden’s got, Durant’s definitely got it, Curry’s got it, Kawhi’s got it. Look in their eyes next time the game is on the line under two minutes. You can see it on their face. See if they back down from the challenge.
You simply cannot be the best player if you lack that killer instinct. Lebron passes up that opportunity like a sprinter passes off a baton. Hell, he won his second championship in Miami because of a Ray Allen corner three. More recently, in game 2 of this year’s Finals, when Cleveland had the chance to split in Golden State and shift the series’ momentum before heading back to Cleveland, Lebron passes up the shot and defaults to Kyle Korver who misses poorly. Lebron has never even been the most clutch player on his team EVER. Round 1 in Cleveland, it was Mo Milliams taking those big shots. In Miami it was Wade and Allen. And for Round 2 in Cleveland, it is by far Kyrie Irving day in and day out. James’ lack of a killer instinct is highlighted by his history of flopping too, a character flaw that none of the true greats ever suffered from. I implore you to youtube “Lebron James flopping”. You’ll be amazed. Instead of putting your nose to the grind and displaying grit and true toughness, the alleged basketball player instead opts to use his superstar status to draw fouls. Especially against people who play pretty solid isolation defense on him like Andre Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George. The dude’s got the build of an NFL tight end, the strength of an interior lineman, and the speed of a running back and yet he frays from contact like puppy running from a vacuum.
And please don’t give me the argument that Lebrick is just making his teammates better. When defenses clog the lane because the uncontrollable bowling ball is bearing down towards the basket, just kicking it out to a wide open three point shooter is not making your teammates better. That is once again a one-dimensional player relying on his size and strength instead of his offensive talent.
With so many great players to have played this game, you cannot determine who the best is based off a .8 point scoring differential or a 1.2 rebounding differential. You need to look at the unmeasurables. And if you do so objectively, Lebrick just doesn’t measure up, no matter how many times he goes to the Finals.