LeBron James is 2-4 in NBA Finals series in his career. His detractors cite that admittedly poor record when criticizing him, be it in the context of today’s game or his place in history. They’re not necessarily wrong either, 2-4 isn’t great. Michael Jordan went 6-6 in the NBA Finals. Bill Russell went 11 for 12. This seems to make a decently strong case against Lebron James obtaining a place with those players in the annals of NBA history, but is actually misleading.
Over the years, LeBron carried the following players to NBA Finals appearances: Donyell Marshall, DeAndre Cortez Way, Brendan Haywood, James Jones (6 times!), Isaiah Jackman, Quavious Marshall, and Dexter Pittman. How incredible is that? Lebron’s history with terrible teammates is so incredible that I included both Soulja Boy and Quavo in that list and you didn’t even realize they weren’t NBA players. Isaiah Jackman isn’t even a real person!
That’s why comparing LeBron’s finals record to the other greats he so often must measure up with is foolish. In his six finals appearances, he played poorly in only one of them (against the Mavericks in 2011). Last year’s finals featured a Herculean effort from Lebron that ultimately fell short against a great Golden State Warriors team. In 2014, LeBron and the Miami Heat ran into the San Antonio Spurs at the height of their powers and it’s doubtful any team could have defeated them playing like that.
This year, facing the possibility of falling to a 2-5 career record in finals matchups, LeBron faces possibly the greatest team of all time riding a wave of momentum following a comeback from down 3-1 in the series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Cleveland Cavaliers are finally fully healthy and look to put up more of a fight against the Warriors this year than last, but it will take the full breadth of LeBron’s formidable powers to stop Stephen Curry and crew this year.
He’ll need to go all out on both ends of the floor, and likely for the entirety of the series. He’ll need to switch onto guards, defend centers, and rebound at an elite level. He’ll need to shoulder a heavy portion of the offensive burden bruising in the post while also getting his teammates involved.
Even with all of that responsibility, the world will look at him as a failure if he doesn’t deliver Cleveland the championship they so cherish. Of course a championship is the ultimate goal every year for LeBron, but there is only so much one man can do. He’ll have help, as this is the healthiest, most flexible Cavs roster LeBron has every played with, and Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in particular are both healthy and should help share the load offensively.
Still, this is LeBron’s team and it’s his legacy at stake. As silly as that sounds, it matters. Finals record, for whatever reason, matters to people. It doesn’t matter that LeBron has carried such awful teams to the finals or that his teams have been underdogs in most of his trips to the finals. All that matters to many NBA fans is victory, independent of realistic expectations, and that’s unfair to LeBron and makes the finals this year even more interesting than usual.