Let the instant analysis begin. The Heat were throttled. LeBron played poorly. He’s a bum, the Unchosen One. LeBron is timid and shrinks from the spotlight. He can’t handle the pressure of the NBA Finals. Enough Already.
Something I’ve found interesting about this Miami team is that no matter what happens, it’s all about LeBron. The team plays well, LBJ was great in the win. The team struggles, LBJ’s a dog. A triple-double in a loss isn’t enough; 7-21 and 15 points in a loss certainly aren’t good enough. All King James, all the time.
There are some problems with this reporting. Firstly, it ignores the play of Miami’s other players. Secondly, it fails to acknowledge the great play of the Spurs. Thirdly, it completely overshadows the team aspect of basketball—both in terms of Miami and San Antonio.
Normally a superstar taking everything on the chin is par for the course. The Heat aren’t normal, though. Dwyane Wade is widely considered a Top-Five shooting guard of all time—some even say number three behind MJ and Kobe. Ray Allen is a hall of famer, Chis Bosh is a star, Mike Miller was once the alpha dog on a team, and the list goes on. You can do this for nearly every player on Miami’s bench, all the way down to Rashard Lewis—yep, that Rashard Lewis. Theoretically, Miami’s bench is deepest in the league. Yet excepting little bursts, they’ve been terrible. Wade’s play has been laborious;Bosh hasn’t been the same since the Pacers beat him down; really nobody is helping shoulder the load.
This isn’t an excuse for LeBron’s mortal numbers. Moreover it’s to show that his talented cast mates are playing like anything but. LeBron’s abilities go beyond scoring. He is a facilitator. Any facilitator will be hampered when his team drags. Talent can carry the greats against most teams. Every once in a while, though, they’ll run into a well-coached, veteran squad. Against these teams it takes more than one man’s talent to persevere.
Which leads us to San Antonio. Far too much is being said about LeBron’s poor play and far too little about the Spurs defense. Great players don’t fold up unless forced. The Spurs’ defensive philosophy has been terrific. They’re taking the ball out of LeBron’s hands and forcing struggling role players to convert. The Spurs also clog the lane, forcing Miami to make jumpers. So far the main difference in the two teams this series has been the Spurs outside shots falling and Miami’s rattling out.
Tying James’ legacy to each game is preposterous. The man has won one ring, one gold medal, and two MVP’s in the past 365 days. That’s a better resume than most players’ careers. Sometimes in sports you run up against a team that’s just better. Kobe lost in the Finals. Bird lost in the Finals. Magic lost in the Finals. So did Shaq, West, Wilt, and Kareem. Even the greats lose. Sometimes it’s not in the cards.
By assessing the man’s legacy after every game we deprive ourselves of the true joy of sports. The most fun is seeing how James will overcome the new challenges set before him. Staying on legacy watch is boring and pretty negative. 20 years from now are we going to remember the unsavory Game 3 in 2013? Probably not, when considering the complete breadth of work. Jumping on every single high and low is tiresome. Yes, it’s the nature of our instant-analysis society, but it’s still tedious.
There’s a fairly strong sentiment that Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time. Did we know it when he played? Maybe, maybe not. We sure knew it after he left a gaping hole in the center of the NBA universe. With LeBron, and all players for that matter, we should just wait until they’re done. These arguments tend to sort themselves out. Rather than complaining while watching the picture get painted, let’s judge the art at its completion.
This series will be won and lost by teams. Teams will shut each other down. Players will rely on their teammates. At the end of the day basketball is a team game. LeBron’s legacy will ultimately be determined by the success not only of himself, but also of his teammates. He is such a force of nature on the court that it’s often easy to forget the other four people sharing the same jersey. However, when the history books are closed, players are judged on the merits of their teams. In this case, it goes beyond the LeBron show.