My knowledge of NBA history only extends as far as what I’ve randomly come across on Wikipedia, and everything I learned in Bill Simmons’ 10,000 page manifesto on why the Celtics are the best. Despite my admittedly limited knowledge, I don’t think I’m out of my league to say this: No player in NBA history has faced THREE Legacy-Or-Bust games in two seasons and successfully eviscerated most doubts to win those games.
Collectively, we’ve been on the verge of damning LeBron to a lifetime of Wilt Chamberlain tags on three separate occasions. This means two things: Led by ESPN, sports media and sports fans may be the most knee-jerk portion of human society, never giving appropriate time or patience to assess anything. The other thing, of course, is that LeBron is fucking great. Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals: 45 points against the Celtics on the road down 3-2. Game 6 of the 2013 Finals down 3-2 and coming off of an uneven 8-22 night shooting: a 32-10-11 line. Last night: 37 points and a step-back mid-range dagger at the end with the Heat only up 2—a shot that the Spurs were more than happy to give him.
Although LeBron hasn’t mitigated the circumstances that eventually led to these cluster-fuck do-or-maybe-literally-die situations well—he was averaging 16 ppg the first three games of this year’s Finals—he’s answered the call every time he’s been expected to. Problem is, ever since that Game 6 in Boston, we’ve expected him to not continually drive himself into these uncomfortable situations. He’ll always be cursed by his unlimited potential, but I thought he was over whatever mental block he suffers from that causes him to simply go missing in important games. It goes beyond not getting shots he normally makes to fall—it’s that he doesn’t assert himself to get those shots.
That’s the kind of player we’re dealing with. He’s a supremely talented individual with a supremely uneven mind, but one that can turn it on when all seems lost. Unlike last year, at least we know that switch exists, and can re-adjust our expectations accordingly. (Or not. Probably not.) Before Game 6 in Boston last year, we didn’t know he could turn it on; during the first half of the Finals we knew he could most definitely turn it off, but only to be flipped back up for the most critical moments. So we’ll bash him for the week he comes up short on the court, only to dress him up in hyperbolic superlatives after he, once again, proves everyone wrong. But because of who he is, and the tumultuous past he’s had, there will always be factions of fandom and media who will keep betting against LeBron.
LeBron doesn’t have the pathological killer instinct of Jordan or Kobe, and he doesn’t have the rational to the point where it seems irrational confidence of Magic. He doesn’t have the ice of Kevin Durant, and he certainly isn’t as steady and stoic as Tim Duncan. It’s time to stop comparing him to other greats, because LeBron, like life itself, isn’t a series of black-and-white events. You can’t assign him to just one role or character. You can count on him for everything and nothing while expecting the most. LeBron is a mercurial person blessed with a Mozart-like combination of intelligence, body, and talent that we’ve never seen before in a basketball player. And that’s okay. He’ll probably have many more Game 7’s than four-game sweeps, and we’ll have the same conversations about his mental fortitude and his legacy until we look back in 2020 and realize he’s got more rings than Jordan.
And right now, that’s what I’m rooting for. I went from being a totally idiotic LeBron hater, to not hating him as much, to wanting to see the him win as much as he can. I won’t be overt about it—I’m not going to tweet “GO HEAT,” or post pictures of LeBron on my Instagram, or even cheer for him in public. This will do:
Heat in 7.
— Justin Block (@JBlock49) June 7, 2013
After all, I am a Knicks fan. I hate the Heat, and other than James Dolan, LeBron James’ Heat are the biggest threat to my team. Yet I can’t bring myself to outwardly and viciously root against the guy (unless of course the Knicks are playing him), especially since the Knicks are doomed to second-round playoff exits for about the next 3-5 years. For me, it’ll all be a very sage-like, semi-passive approach—or balance—between wanting to see my Knicks win, and wanting to see LeBron collect titles. (And if he ditches Chris Bosh’s Pterodactyl qualities and Dwayne Wade’s knees after 2014 for LA or Kyrie Irving’s Cavs, maybe he’ll run off 6 straight championships individually. Your move, Pat Riley.)
I didn’t live through Jordan. I was too young. The way 70s and 80s babies snobbishly look down upon LeBron and today’s game through Jordan’s GOAT glasses, I want to be able to look down upon the next generation. I want to say that I lived through the Greatest, and my best shot at that selfish glory is LeBron James. Culturally, LeBron will never match what Jordan did and is still doing, but provided LeBron continues his statistical dominance and his championship pedigree, we’ll be able to one day say that he outdid MJ on the court.
And that’s LeBron’s unwritten legacy as written by someone in 2013. Let’s check back in 2023.
Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49