LeBron James will be the prize of the free agent signings this year and will win his share of NBA Championships in what has already been a storied career, but this series with the Celtics revealed what many analysts have silently thought: James is no Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan.
This is not a question of championships, both Michael and Kobe had their share of challenges to win: Jordan in his early career and Kobe in the Shaq-less years. This is not a question of talent or recorded statistics, all three have amazing amounts of both. This is a question of heart.
In the final minute of the Celtics-Cavaliers game, with a minimum of three possessions left on the clock and down 9 points, the Cavaliers quit. No hustling on defense to cause a turn-over; no flurry of shots from the three-point line, nothing. As a team, the Celtics broke their spirit. Say what you will about Jordan and Kobe, no one can say that about the Jordan-led Bulls or the Kobe-led Lakers. Nobody.
Greatness in sports is not measured in talent and stats alone, but it requires heart. It is encapsulated in having the will to fight until the bell is rung, no matter the circumstances.
Jordan never quit, making more clutch shots in big games than anyone, one coming against Cleveland on May 7, 1989 over a fully extended Craig Ehlo, possibly stopping the only chance Cleveland had of winning a NBA Championship for generations to come. Kobe Bryant pulled his team from the brink of defeat to victory in many playoff games, but even in the ones they lost, he went down shooting.
An interesting comparison comes from Isaiah Thomas. In 1984 playing in the fifth and deciding game of the series, Isaiah scored 16 points in the final 94 seconds of the fourth quarter to close out the game and the series against the New York Knicks.
A truly great player, Isaiah sullied his reputation in 1991 when he and his teammates walked off the court before the game ended against the soon to be crowned Chicago Bulls. The Cavaliers didn't walk off, they stood still. Cleveland deserved better. NBA fans did too.
Whichever team he goes to, LeBron will eventually win championships and will go down in history as one of the greatest of all time...but behind Michael and Kobe. Somebody just needs to take him to the Wizard and get him a little more heart.