It’s taken him 17 long seasons, but LeBron James will finally be playing in his 10th NBA Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers secured his spot on Saturday by beating the Denver Nuggets, 117–107. It was a true team effort, with James and JaVale McGee combining to put up 38 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists. Nonetheless, all the attention and adulation has been placed squarely on King James. “For me, personally, the job is not done,” he told reporters after the game. That’s good, LeBron, because for me, personally, your job is not done, either.
LeBron’s accomplishments look good on paper. Three NBA championships. Four MVP awards. Sixteen straight All-Star appearances. The most playoff points in league history. Two Olympic gold medals (in basketball). And this year, at the age of 35, he claimed his first assist title, which seems impressive until you realize that Pablo Picasso was 56 when he painted Guernica.
Nevertheless, LeBron would like us to believe that his age somehow makes him special. “I think people have just grown accustomed of what I do and it gets taken for granted at times what I do because I do it so often and it’s been a constant thing for so long,” he said. That this quote is from 2017 only underscores the absurdity of the claim that his longevity has played a part in how we perceive him. I take nothing for granted. I watch every game as if it were the first one I’ve ever seen. I have to pull up the Wikipedia entry for basketball just to know what is happening. I’d suggest LeBron do the same.
If LeBron were serious about his legacy, he would not have allowed himself to have a 3–6 (potentially 3–7!) record in the Finals. And how are we supposed to take those three wins seriously when we know they were achieved with the assistance of superstars Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving, and Matthew Dellavedova? The only time Michael Jordan ever needed help was when he ate some bad pizza and asked an unnamed teammate to walk him to the bench.
For some, LeBron has already done enough to be considered an all-time great. “LeBron is one of the most dynamic and charismatic players in the history of the NBA,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has said. “LeBron James to me, when you think about all-around basketball players, he’s probably the best of all time,” claimed Magic Johnson. All due respect to Kareem and Magic, but I’ve been watching the NBA since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson ruled the league. You need to earn my respect.
Yes, I’ve seen LeBron’s various “feats.” I watched a 22-year-old LeBron score 25 straight points to close out the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. I saw him overcome a 3–1 series deficit against the 73-win Warriors in 2016. I watched his triple-double on Saturday night. Those were all great moments, sure, but they happened at specific points within the unceasing flow of time. They amount to nothing when isolated and removed from context. Do you think the radiant heat of the Big Bang would be impressed by LeBron’s Game 7 chase-down block of Andre Iguodala? No, because that cosmological phenomenon and I share something in common: perspective.
So, what can LeBron do to make me appreciate his greatness? I’m open to calling his entire career a wash and letting him start again from scratch. He could, starting now, re-create his achievements from the beginning and, in 2027, at 42 years old, formally apologize for The Decision and announce during a nationally televised special that he will not be switching teams. That’s one option.
Another possibility is for LeBron to invent or procure a time machine (either is fine) and travel back to face the rough-and-tumble defenses of the mid-1990s. As someone who played during that era (as a fifth grader), I know just how disruptive hand-checking can be. LeBron doesn’t, which is why he must circumvent space time and confront John Starks.
It would be a shame to see someone as talented as LeBron tarnish his legacy by refusing to make me appreciate his greatness, but that’s sadly what we’ve come to expect during the “player empowerment” era. We the fans, and me specifically, don’t matter to him. If only he knew what it felt like to be taken for granted.