“You watch those nature documentaries on the cable? You see the one about lions? You got this lion. He’s the king of the jungle, huge mane out to here. He’s laying under a tree, in the middle of Africa. He’s so big, it’s so hot. He doesn’t want to move. Now the little lions come, they start messing with him. Biting his tail, biting his ears. He doesn’t do anything. The lioness, she starts messing with him. Coming over, making trouble. Still nothing. Now the other animals, they notice this. They start to move in. The jackals; hyenas. They’re barking at him, laughing at him. They nip his toes, and eat the food that’s in his domain. They do this, then they get closer and closer, bolder and bolder. Till one day, that lion gets up and tears the shit out of everybody. Runs like the wind, eats everything in his path. Cause every once in a while, the lion has to show the jackals, who he is.”
– Christopher Walken, Poolhall Junkies
This is the prophetic Poolhall Junkies quote that was in that brilliant Cavaliers hype video before Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Truer words never presented in a more relevant context. If you’re reading this column I assume that you know what’s transpired since then: LeBron unrolled his Tormund Giantsbaned-sized loaf onto the Warriors collective forehead, where it remained for the next three games.
I’m not going to get into a ton of detail about just how good LeBron was in the Finals, or how badly the Dubs and especially their “leader” Steph Curry choked. I just want to present LeBron’s now-unassailable resume and have someone convince me that he’s anything worse than the 2nd best basketball player of all-time. So let’s go. 13 seasons of LeBron. Buckle in cuz this is gonna take a minute..
So. 13 NBA Seasons. Seems like it flew by, right? Here’s what our boy has accomplished in those 13 years: 12x All-Star, 10x 1st Team All-NBA, 2x 2nd Team All-NBA, 5x 1st Team Defense, 4x MVP, 3x NBA Champion, 3x Finals MVP, 2x Olympic Gold Medalist, 1x NBA Scoring Champion, and one comeback from 3-1 down in the Finals to beat the winningest regular season team in NBA history. He’s won 67% of his 987 regular season games (660-227) and 66% of his 199 post-season games (131-68), both of which are in the top 20 all-time. Btw, he’s played 47,000+ minutes and has still never missed a single playoff game. Superman.
Career averages of 27-7-7 on 50/34/74 shooting splits, numbers that he achieves so casually at this point that we don’t even fully appreciate how spectacular they are anymore. To hammer this point home, here are the people who have averaged a 27-7-7 for a single season: Oscar Robertson (1960-61, 1961-62, 1962-63, 1963-64, 1964-65, 1965-66), John Havlicek (1970-71, 1971-72), Larry Bird (1986-87), MJ (1988-89), Russell Westbrook (2014-15), LeBron James (2004-05, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10). And that’s it. That’s the list. No Magic, no Kobe, no Scottie, no Barkley. It’s been done 15 times ever, 7 times since the merger, and LeBron accounts for 4 of them. He’s in the top 10 in career playoff minutes (4th), points (4th), rebounds (9th), assists (3rd), 3’s made (5th), and steals (4th). It should tell you something that the only argument the haters have left is, “Well, he’s only won 3…”.
Next, the iconic moments. No resume is complete without them. Jordan has The 63 point game in the Garden, The Elo Shot, The Flu Game, The Shrug, The Shot. Let’s take a look at some of LeBron’s: 25 straight points against the Pistons in ECF G5 2007, The Stare Game (45 and 15 vs the Celtics in ECF G6 2012), 16 4th quarter points en route to a triple-double to even give Ray Allen a chance in Finals G6 2013 followed by a 37 and 12 in G7, the magnificent solo Tour-de-Force against the Dubs in the 2015 Finals. Standing on their own, those are all among the best playoff performances of all time, and they all still pale in comparison to his Finals performance this year, especially in Games 5, 6, and 7.
This next section is why I believe that LeBron is at worst the second best basketball player ever. I’d like to start by referencing another movie quote:
“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth…there is no spoon. Then you will see it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”
– Spoon Boy, The Matrix
When Neo goes to see the Oracle, he encounters a child. The ensuing interaction is one of the first steps to Neo understanding that he can basically do whatever the hell he wants. For the first 4 games of the Finals, LeBron was trying to bend the spoon. He was playing by the Warriors rules, taking what they were giving him, and the Cavs found themselves down 3-1.
However, something changed after that 4th game. It probably had something to do with Klay and Draymond questioning Bron’s manhood, but sometime between Games 4 and 5 he realized that there is no spoon. LeBron remembered that he is the best goddamn basketball player on the planet, and that the Warriors should be playing by his rules, not the other way around. Sure the teammates helped (as they should, its the NBA Finals..) but the ensuing 3 games were some of the most dominating 2-way performances that I’ve ever seen by an individual player. 36.3 points per game, 11.7 rpg, 9.7 apg, 3 spg, and 3 bpg (he led the series in all categories) on 50/42/73 shooting. Much like Neo in the Matrix, you just got the sense that almost nothing was happening on that court without LeBron’s implicit approval, culminating with this:
The Block is now on the Iconic NBA Moments Mount Rushmore, and will be one of the first clips shown in any NBA Finals montage for the rest of time. Who else in NBA history makes that play? MJ? Scottie? Young Rodman? None of the above? I’m inclined to think the latter. Nobody else in NBA history sprints 90 feet to make that play with less than 2 minutes to go with it tied up in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The whole sequence was a microcosm of LeBron’s career: super-human athleticism mixed with super-human reflexes, an incredible basketball IQ (watch again, he had both sides of the rim covered), and an unmatched hunger to win one for the Land.
It was the perfect cherry on the top of those 3 games, which I believe are articles 1a, 1b, and 1c in the Lebron-is-at-worst-the-2nd-best-player-ever argument. I simply can’t imagine anyone else besides MJ who could have that big of an influence over a single game of basketball, let alone 3 Elimination Games in a row, with 2 of them on the road, against the winningest regular season team of all time, with his entire legacy on the line. I know Bron’s resume doesn’t stack up to Mike’s (yet), but the 13 seasons we’ve already seen from him are more than enough for me to put the two of them in a tier of their own.