He’s was on the national basketball radar since his high school days. He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before he played minute one in the NBA. His nickname was King, and he had all the pressure in the world to deliver. And he did…
LeBron James is so good at the game of basketball it’s making a lot of people uncomfortable, nervous, jealous, hate…take your pick. He is the one guy in the game today that no coach has an answer for and lately seems immune to the “off game” in the post season. It’s hard not to marvel at his physical stature and ability to essentially play all five positions. However, as we all know, you can’t be great without being hated by some. I gave this some thought recently, and I’ve come up with a list of official card carrying members of the LeBron James Hatorade Club:
- Skip Bayless – Skip is the fearless ring leader of this club, as he decided early on in LeBron James’ career that he would be the contrarian while everyone else was throwing praise to the King. Sadly, Skip probably started his mantra of “LeBron lacks the clutch gene” as early as 2007 when LeBron was just 22 years old (his teammates were guys like Drew Gooden and Daniel Gibson) and got swept out of the NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs. Fast Forward to 2011, as LeBron joins the Heat and again loses in the NBA Finals the Mavericks. This was definitely LeBron’s worst NBA Finals and Skip was rallying his loyal followers to keep the pressure on LeBron. Yet, here we are, 7 NBA Finals appearances, and 3 championships later and Skip Bayless still won’t let up. He judges LeBron James’ entire career by the final 5 seconds of every big game. He pays close attention to whether or not LeBron looks for his shot or makes a pass, and then sparks reaction via Twitter. If Skip is so obsessed with last second big shots, I’m guessing he has Robert Horry as a first ballot Hall of Famer. Skip has essentially doubled down so many times calling LeBron “unclutch” that he can’t turn back at this point. It’s his identity, it defines him and quite frankly the act has gotten old.
- Kobe Fans – ohhhhh yeah. This is one of those ‘barber shop’ debates that will stand the test of time. Kobe was equally loved and hated like LeBron. Kobe has more rings, and played his entire career for one team. However, his fan base is getting antsy. LeBron is up to 3 rings and has not shown any signs of slowing down. In my opinion, LeBron James is a more complete player than Kobe Bryant. Kobe was a better scorer, and yes, has hit more clutch shots over his career. LeBron James makes players around him better, he’s someone everyone in the league would love to play alongside. If LeBron gets to 5 rings, I’m sure Kobe fans will default to overall Finals record. Kobe ended his career 5-2 in the Finals. Right now LeBron is 3-4 in NBA Finals (aiming for his 7th straight appearance). Consider this – LeBron never played for a team that entered the finals with more than a 2-in-3 chance of winning, per ESPN’s BPI, and he had less than a 33 percent chance to win in three of his finals losses with the loss to the Spurs in 2007, Warriors in 2015, and Heat vs Spurs in 2014 (Source: FivethirtyEight.com) I’m guessing every NBA Finals Kobe played in the Lakers were the favorite. Finals record aside, many believe LeBron has already surpassed Kobe as greatest player of this generation since….yep, Michael Jordan. Which brings me to my next group….
- Michael Jordan fans. “Oh no you didn’t. Oh yeah I did.” It seems ridiculous to even have this conversation, but guys like Dan LeBetard still contend LeBron James is the best basketball player he’s ever seen play. Now, maybe Dan is referring to the freak of nature physique and the things he can do at that size. Jordan fans have the ultimate ammunition: 6-0 in NBA Finals. Checkmate. BUT….yes, BUT, what if Lebron ends his career playing in 12 NBA Finals and goes 6-6? That would be double the amount of Finals Jordan played in and he would have the same amount of rings. Could that be enough to dethrone Jordan as ‘the greatest player of a generation?’ Jordan fans will contend LeBron played in a much weaker Eastern Conference during his career. If LeBron defeats THIS Golden State team this year, I would say that is as big a resume stuffer than anything Jordan has on his.
- Frank Vogel & Paul George. Wrong place, wrong time. The Indiana Pacers from 2011 to 2014 could not avoid LeBron James and the Miami Heat come playoff time. In 2011-12 the Heat eliminated the Pacers in the 2nd round. In 2012-13, the Pacers took the Heat to a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. This was their chance, finally on the brink of an NBA Finals for Paul George, David West, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, Roy Hibbert. This team was peaking at the right time. The problem for the Pacers was the year before LeBron and the Heat lost to the Mavericks in the NBA Finals. There was no way in hell LeBron was losing a Game 7 to the Pacers. He dropped 32 points and blew out Indiana 99-76. 2013-14, same match up in the Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs Pacers. Miami once again sent Paul George fishing in 6 games. If its any consolation to Paul George and Frank Vogel, anyone that has played in the Eastern Conference the last 7+ years has been sent home short of a trip to the NBA Finals courtesy of LeBron James.
- Finally, Golden State Warriors fans. The King took their throne last season, and that come from behind victory in the NBA Finals basically changed the entire landscape of the NBA. The Warriors were robbed of their right to yell, “Dynasty!” One title is nice, but two in a row proves it wasn’t an aberration. Back-to-Back is a rare club in the NBA. So the Warriors decided the only way to defeat LeBron James was to go get another first-team All NBA player in Kevin Durant. They are ready. They have waited 12 months for a rematch. What does it say about how special LeBron James is when the best team in the NBA has to add a Kevin Durant to try to bring him to his knees? We will find out soon enough…
As LeBron’s legend continues to grow so will this list. Celtic fans are banging at the door to get in. It’s not easy wearing the crown. LeBron has been adding to his greatness every single season. He’s on the verge of playing in his 7th straight Finals this summer. It’s going to be hot, so be sure to drink plenty of Hatorade….
Written By Andrew Rosenberg