This Just-In… Bow to the King

Justin Prakaiphetkul, Asst. Sports Editor

Sports Illustrated dubbed him The Chosen One. Slam Magazine said he was ready to rule the world. Celtics GM Danny Ainge told the world with a straight face that there were only a handful of players who he would not trade for the Cleveland prodigy.

Four MVPs, three rings, three Finals MVPs, 13 All-NBA Teams and 13 All-Star appearances later, it’s safe to say that LeBron James has lived up to the hype. Surely an athlete of his caliber at this point in his career would be universally regarded as one of the top players in basketball’s illustrious history. Yet, when it comes to the King, the exact opposite is the case.

Since the day James put on a Fighting Irish jersey, he has received his fair share of critics, in the form of analysts and fans. Nevertheless, time and time again, he has proven his doubters wrong.

Whether it was scoring 45 points in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, repeating as champion after defeating the San Antonio Spurs or dethroning the 73-9 Golden State Warriors two years ago to bring a title to Cleveland, the King has shown that he can step up in the heat of the moment.

The main argument that critics use to diminish his legacy is the fact that he has a 3-5 Finals record.

Before I go further, yes, LeBron underperformed in the 2011 NBA Finals, as he averaged 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists.

However, the other four losses in James’ Finals career should not be used against him, as his teams were clearly the underdog in those Finals matchups.

Heading into the 2007 NBA Finals, anybody with a lick of basketball knowledge could predict that the 22-year old James had zero chance of winning against the Spurs’ prime Big Three.

In 2014, the Miami Heat—with an injury-riddled D-Wade and Chris Bosh playing below expectations—had no fighting chance to go toe-to-toe with the 62-win, revenge-hungry Spurs, featuring an emerging star in Kawhi Leonard.

The following year, with K-Love out for the Finals and Kyrie Irving suffering an injury in Game 1, the Cavaliers had no hope to take down the Cinderella Story Warriors.

Last year, there was no way that the Cavaliers—nor any other team—were going to overcome the former 73-9 Warriors plus newly acquired Kevin Durant.

Another debate still common in the NBA world is the Larry vs. LeBron discussion. As legendary as Bird is, at this point, James has surpassed Bird as the greatest small forward in NBA history.

Both Larry Legend and the King are similar in that they have perfected the all around game of basketball. James is dominant athletically and possesses mythical-like physical gifts while Bird relied more on his arsenal of crafty moves to make up for his lack of athleticism.

So what exactly separates LeBron from Larry? Longevity.

As great as Bird was, his body was not able to keep up with him as his intense battles with the Showtime Lakers and the Bad Boy Pistons took a toll on his back and lower body. After 1988, Bird’s averages and percentages dropped dramatically for his standards. By 1992—his 13th season—he was forced into retirement.

In his 15th year, James is still the league’s alpha dog, a title he has undisputedly held since 2010.

Truth to be told, no player in the last 20 years has come this close to matching the one and only Michael Jordan. If James is somehow able to upset the Warriors this season, he may do the unthinkable and surpass Jordan as the NBA’s GOAT.

As the King is clearly in the second half of his career, it may be time to wonder when James will decide to take off his crown for good. Although it seems as though James will never slow down, Father Time has proved to be undefeated. With that said, now is the time to truly appreciate the Chosen One for what he is—greatness personified—before it is too late.