Who needs to win the 2011 NBA Championship more: LeBron James or Dirk Nowitzki?
The answer may seem obvious if you're prone to look only at statistics. Dirk is 32, plays on a lesser team than LeBron, and, again, is 32. Dirk is 23rd on the all-time scoring list right now and should reach the top 10 by the time he's done. If he doesn't win one this year, he'll join the likes of Karl Malone, Allen Iverson and Charles Barkley as some of the best players to never win a title.
LeBron, on the other hand, is just 26 and in the prime of his career. At this point, it's almost a done deal that the Heat will win multiple championships in the next decade, with LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all in their primes and dominating the 2011 playoffs without much experience together.
It seems counter-intuitive to say that a 26-year-old needs a championship right now. But I want to argue that, even in his youth, LeBron James needs this championship more than Dirk Nowitzki.
The biggest knock on Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA history, is that he never won a championship despite having viable second options.
Dirk has had decent luck at the point guard position, playing with Steve Nash before he was Steve Nash and Jason Kidd after he was Jason Kidd. Other than that, Dirk hasn't had a true No. 2 scoring option. Malone had one of the best point guards of all time in John Stockton (who could also score) and a reliable third option in Jeff Hornacek.
Dirk may finish his career without a title (I think the Heat win the series in six), but he'll go down as one of the best clutch players in history. He's one of the toughest players to guard, ever. His legacy is cemented and can only improve.
But LeBron's isn't. He's proved to be the most hated player in the league, and it bothers him.
ESPN reporter Brian Windhorst, who'd covered LeBron in Cleveland since high school, told Bill Simmons that LeBron truly didn't expect the type of backlash he received outside of Cleveland. ESPN's SportsCenter poll today asked viewers which result they were hoping for in the NBA Finals. Almost a third of the viewers responded they hope the "Heat lose" and another third hoped the "Mavericks win." People just don't want to see LeBron win.
Which is why he needs to do it now. If LeBron wins this championship, this one right now, he can begin to redeem himself. If there's one thing fans understand, it's the desire to win right away. It's one thing for LeBron to win three championships over the next decade; it's a completely different thing for him to win one right away.
If LeBron loses this series (and if the Heat lose, it's on LeBron), the Heat will be subject to another year of constant questioning, constant criticism. And the haters will be redeemed: LeBron couldn't carry a team, and he couldn't even win with another superstar and Chris Bosh (we're all past calling him a "superstar," right?).
As much as I'm sure Dirk wants this title, his legacy won't take a hit by losing it.
LeBron James needs this title to begin reworking his legacy, to no longer be "that jerk who left Cleveland," to be considered, definitively, the best player in the NBA.