NBA Finals 2011: LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and the Power of the Ring
I don’t want to have a dog in this fight—it makes it hard to write a reasonable article—but let’s face it…I do.
My profile picture is of Peyton Hills, and had I been on this site twelve months ago, it would have been of LeBron James. As a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, you learn to take pleasure in the little things—in this case some cleverly designed t-shirts, particularly vitriolic Twitter-ers, and the prospect of Dwayne Wade as Finals' MVP.
Slowly, and as begrudgingly as possible, I’m starting to come to grips with the reality that by the end of next week, the Wade MVP may be the only solace I have left. How great of a solace it is depends entirely on the strength of what I hope is a convincing argument (slash coping mechanism)…
That ultimately, a championship ring means little to LeBron James' legacy. It’s how one is achieved that counts.
I figure if I can convince you, I can convince myself.
To begin, there’s little evidence to support my assertion. In fact, there’s much to the contrary. Take the following for example:
Kobe Bryant has won five titles, but he certainly hasn’t won them with the type of singular performances that Jordan/Magic/Bird did. Same goes for Tim Duncan, who scored four rings in his career, but won three against overmatched opponents and the other on the back of a Robert Horry three pointer.
In spite of that, there’s no movement to invalidate those championships. What we find is actually quite the opposite—that the numbers five and four are synonymous with Bryant and Duncan. The two stars respective championship tallies signify their predisposition for winning, and for those two guys, that’s all we seem to need to define them.
So naturally, I assumed this to be a recurrent theme.
That Championships are championships, and when plastered on top of a Hall of Fame resume, the only thing taken into account by the general populous would be the size of the number.
Enter Gregg Doyel, the savior of my Sunday night, even if he was a little off in his analysis.
If you haven’t seen what he asked post-game, watch the video. (And apologies for its shaky quality.)
In challenging LeBron at the podium harder than any Mav has yet at the rim, CBS Sports’ Doyel brought to light perhaps the most interesting undercurrent at play in this series. Unlike was the case for Bryant and Duncan, winning may not be enough for LeBron James.
Or perhaps this would be more appropriate wording:
Winning may be enough for LeBron James—after all, when asked after Game three if he might be in a no-win situation, James responded, "No, I did win," James said, "We won."—but it may not be enough for us. After all that has transpired, the act of winning may not be enough to win the majority of us back.
And if he doesn’t get us, he doesn’t get his legacy. After all, we're the ones who have to write it, to tell it to our children.
Now, contrary to Doyel’s assertion, LeBron hasn’t shrunk. Instead, he’s continued to do what he’s done for the entirety of these playoffs, and the entirety of playoffs before: He’s been LeBron James.
For those unfamiliar, LeBron James has always been a guy capable of vacillating between 35 and 14, as he posted in game four of the Boston series, and 17 and 9—his tallies for game three of the NBA Finals. He’s always great, sometimes unstoppable to a degree that none of us have ever seen before (I believe these flashes to be at the heart of Pippen’s near sacrilegious utterances), and occasionally...he's passive.
That’s just LeBron James. Always has been.
The animus—from Doyel and others—I suspect is coming because LeBron has not yet proven anything we didn’t already know.
Furthermore, I suspect the animus is coming because he may have sacrificed his ability to be able to.
And therein lies the wildcard for LeBron.
For as long as I’ve been watching the NBA, championships have been of standard value. Which LeBron basically said verbatim, if a tad more bluntly, on the day of The Decision.
It’s the one thing I think he took for granted at the time , and the one thing I’m still not sure he’s come to grips with now (Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure he’s aware of it, or that he’d care if he were. And if he doesn't care, good for him). That for the first time in what I’d assume to be recorded history, “championships are championships” may not be entirely true.
Take the following from J.A. Adande:
"If winning an NBA Finals game won't be enough for LeBron, then winning the Finals won't be either if this series continues in this manner and Wade plays the starring role in two more victories. LeBron wants to win. That's not enough for us. We want him to go out and win it and in a specific manner. You can already hear the keyboards clicking now, saying LeBron's first championship didn't count because he wasn't the Finals MVP."
LeBron's first championship didn't co... Whoops. Cut off at the pass by Adande!
As has been the case since the day he entered the league, LeBron is in unprecedented territory.
The best player in the NBA, simultaneously with the most to prove and perhaps without the room to prove it.
What is the value of a ring to LeBron James?
I’m honestly not sure.
1. Rollin H.—illustrious editor.
2. Nico Colaleo—who once again did some hellacious coloring on this picture.
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