Would an NBA Finals Loss Tarnish LeBron's Legacy?

Ernest ShepardAnalyst IIIJune 19, 2013

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 18:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts in the fourth quarter while taking on the San Antonio Spurs during Game Six of the 2013 NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena on June 18, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Can we consider LeBron James as one of the top five players of all time? Hold off all of the discussion, as LeBron James is not in the same class as Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, etc.

LeBron’s place in the all-time ranks will take a slight hit if he and the Miami Heat lose in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs.

James is without question the best player the NBA has to offer, and in the playoffs, he has given it his all. Unfortunately, nagging injuries and to teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have rendered them ineffective at times. Their aches and pains have also left LeBron without a full complement of help at the most inopportune time—in the finals.

This is why, despite a loss, LeBron’s legacy remains intact.

LeBron is still a four-time MVP, with one NBA championship already under his belt. Barring a career-altering injury, he will remain the best player that the league has to offer. He is also young enough, at 28 years of age, to return to the NBA Finals a few more times. This season may be his best chance at a second title, given the injuries suffered by a couple of his rival teams.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron and the Heat had their hands full with an Indiana Pacers team that was playing without two-time NBA All-Star Danny Granger. He played a Chicago Bulls team which was missing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng in the series prior. With each player expected to return, the road for LeBron only gets tougher.

How does LeBron compare to some of the all-time greats?


Put an End to the Michael Jordan Comparisons

A loss to the Spurs will eliminate LeBron from the possibility of becoming best ever. For the foreseeable future, that title belongs to Jordan.

Jordan has six NBA titles to his credit, and he never lost in the finals. The statistics also favor Jordan, who averaged 33.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the playoffs.

LeBron’s playoff numbers are excellent, with averages of 28 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. Those numbers rank amongst the best ever to play in the NBA.

A potential 1-3 record in the NBA Finals would dismiss the argument.


LeBron Would Not Be in Jordan’s Class but He Could Still Catch Magic Johnson

Magic had nine NBA Finals appearances, winning five times while losing four.

Statistically LeBron’s scoring numbers are much better than Magic’s. Magic averaged only 19.5 points, but he dished out 12.3 assists and hauled in 7.7 rebounds in the playoffs. Before LeBron catches Jordan, he has to catch Magic. Even if he does catch Magic, he will still have tough time matching the feats of the somehow-forgotten Kobe Bryant.

Kobe’s playoff numbers, 25.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, are inferior to LeBron’s. His 5-2 record in the NBA Finals dwarfs that of LeBron.

Sometimes we get caught up into the player that is currently the flavor of the month, while neglecting the greatness of another player. Kobe is the only player who has lived up to the burden of carrying Jordan’s torch. Until LeBron’s evolution as an elite player, Kobe was the best.

My how fast we forget these things!


LeBron’s Career Compares to Another NBA Great

The all-time great to whom LeBron must be compared is Julius “Dr. J” Erving. Both players have been transcendent superstars in their eras, and they have helped changed the NBA into what we watch today.

Statistically, LeBron is slightly better. Dr. J averaged 24.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the postseason.

LeBron has the edge in NBA MVP trophies as well, although Erving did win the award three times in the ABA (American Basketball Association) and is a one-time MVP in the NBA.

If LeBron loses to the Spurs, his NBA Finals record would match Dr. J’s 1-3. Being on Dr. J’s level is an honor and a privilege, and another title would allow LeBron to leapfrog Dr. J in the ranks. Until then, they are equals.  

For now, we have to take a pause before we anoint LeBron as the best ever. He is one loss away from infamy, although infamy does not tarnish his legacy.

LeBron is still the best player in the game at this moment.