LeBron James has played as much basketball as just about any other player over the last few seasons. Few superstars have had their on-court game as severely critiqued and interrogated as James. However, he finished the 2013 NBA season having won two straight NBA titles and having won two straight NBA playoff MVP awards. It’s unlikely that James will ever completely shake his ‘haters’, but there’s no doubt that his legacy as a great NBA players is just about secured.
James hasn’t always been his own greatest ally when it comes to PR. He declared himself as the successor to Michael Jordan when he was drafted into the NBA straight out of high school. However, he struggled to live up to those standards. He didn’t have a terrific jump shot and he didn’t have much help leading the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In his fourth season with the Cavaliers, he appeared in his first NBA Finals after a terrific run through the Eastern conference. However, he suffered the fate of effectively being shut out by an efficient and experienced San Antonio Spurs in those 2007 finals. Cleveland got swept by San Antonio and some of the doubts previously raised about James were brought to a head. He was clearly exposed as an extremely limited offensive player.
He played for three more seasons in Cleveland, but his team never reached the NBA Finals again. He would leave as a free agent during the 2010 offseason. Ultimately his time with the Cavaliers would be reflected upon as a failure. However, the manner of his departure drew even more ire and frustration from those involved in the NBA and fans alike.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh announced their ‘decision’ to sign with the Miami Heat in a special TV program called ‘the decision’. At that point LeBron made his now infamous ‘not one, not two, not three…’ speech.
All of the pressure was now on James and the ‘big three’. They – and James in particular – crumbled under that pressure in the 2011 Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. It looked like LeBron’s reputation as a failure, choker and disappointment had finally been sealed. Comparisons with Jordan were out the window. The discussion was now whether James was even the best player of his own era.
That narrative was finally disrupted last season. James dominated the 2012 finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder leading the Heat to a title in five games. Not only did LeBron dominate the Finals, but he also played a supreme Game 6 and 7 against the Boston Celtics to get through the Eastern conference finals.
There was still a feeling that James hadn’t completely vindicated himself and that feeling clearly re-surfaced during the 2013 NBA playoffs when Miami was threatened by first Indiana and then San Antonio. Wade’s injury struggles left many wondering whether James could really win without Wade. He was accused of deferring too much, shooting too much and shooting too badly all at once.
We all know what happened then. It was James who stood up and led this team in that remarkable Game 6 comeback. It was James who led them through Game 7. LeBron may never earn serious consideration as someone worthy of comparison to Jordan as he dreamed of when he first entered the league. However, his legacy as the great NBA player of his era is all but secured.