Yesterday, in an interview on Bleacher Report's Sirius XM channel, NBA legend and Golden State Warriors consultant Jerry West took a bold stance against the public scrutiny of LeBron James in the plainest language possible:
And who better to stand up for LeBron? During the '60s and '70s, "Mr. Clutch" Jerry West was a top-10 player and would've certainly been even more dangerous had there been a 3-point line. West also lived in the NBA Finals, playing in nine of them during his 14-year career with help from Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, losing to Russell's Celtics in six of them while "only" winning one against the New York Knicks. He's the only player to win a Finals MVP in a losing effort. He even battled depression his entire life due to childhood beatings from his father and adulthood beatings from the unforgiving media.
Still, what Jerry West went through doesn't equate to the abuse taken by present-day LeBron James. For example, fair or not, if James would've turned in a 5-for-23 performance like the league's current MVP Steph Curry did last night, all hell would've broken lose. The microscope LeBron James plays under is well documented. It can be argued that Michael Jordan himself didn't even face the same kind of media scrutiny that King James puts up with regularly. MJ sent a fax when he announced his return to the game in '95. Like, what the fuck is a fax?
Jerry West—the man whose silhouette is used for the NBA's logo and the man who knows what its like to lose in the Finals as one of the league's best players—is right. We need to appreciate LeBron James instead of killing him for every misstep. I'm guilty of it; I've rooted against him because it's fun. Also, I'm a forever bitter Knicks fan who hasn't gotten over "The Decision." (I mean, c'mon, who wouldn't want to play for James Dolan? Right? No? *crickets*)
James is the best basketball player on earth who would've been one of the best basketball players in any NBA era.
This isn't a generational thing, either. James is the best basketball player on earth who would've been one of the best basketball players in any NBA era. Make no mistake about it. LeBron is 6'8", 250 lbs. and does things on the basketball court we've never seen from a player of his size. He's built like Karl Malone, plays like Magic, and is as athletic as Michael Jordan. You're out of your fucking mind if you think he would've been a B-list star in the '80s or '90s. Zeke from Cabin Creek can relate to the LeBron hate.
LeBron has been to the Finals six times, counting this season, and he and teammate James Jones are the first players to appear in five straight Finals' since the Celtics of the '60s. But hol' up wait a minute, ya thought he was finished? LeBron fucked around and caught his fifth NBA Finals triple-double last night (second to Magic's eight) to willed his Cavs to a series-tying victory, making this a series for the time being. He is now one of two players to have a triple-double while scoring 39 points or more in the Finals. The other? Jerry West in Game 7 of the '69 Finals—a series he lost but played so extraordinarily well in they named him the Finals MVP.
In Game 2, both the Cavs and the Warriors were abysmal from the field. The Cavs shot 32 percent while the Warriors shot 39 percent, respectively. It's hard to fathom Golden State shooting that poorly again, but regardless, Cleveland controlled the pace from beginning to end because LeBron controlled the game as his best possible self. He's at his peak when he distributes and makes the bums around him better. King James now feels Carmelo's pain. Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith are so ridiculously inconsistent it'll make you commit self-inflicted harm to yourself. Both were a combined 8-24 from the field in the most important game of their lives. James had five more assists in Game 2 than he did in Game 1, carrying his boneheaded and injury-riddled team to the finish. That famous Maya Angelou poem was about LeBron James.
If Cleveland loses to the Warriors, it won't hurt James' legacy in the long run. The losses of both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are insurmountable. Golden State is too deep, too good defensively, and frankly, the best team King James has ever faced in the NBA Finals. The only people on the Cavs with Finals experience are sitting on their bench. To win this series Cleveland will have to play perfect basketball. Impossibly perfect basketball. LeBron will also have to average a triple-double for them to stand a chance and—however unlikely that seems—he's somehow already on his way to doing just that. Through two games, the King is putting up 41.5 points, 12 boards, and 8.5 dimes.
In the end, though, the Cavs will lose this series. We only hope LeBron James will have earned a pass from the media that he so rarely receives. You're a goddamn hateful bastard if you think he shouldn't. But (we) the media make a living by making something out of nothing so, you know, nothing is promised:
Both Jordan and Kobe had help to win their 11 combined rings. LeBron will almost certainly be 2-4 in the Finals after this year, but he's carried hotter piles of steaming garbage farther than either one of the aforementioned greats. Plus he's almost certainly going to be back. And in the case he isn't back or doesn't win another title? It'll be OK. Jerry West has walked that path and seems to be doing just fine.
Angel Diaz is a staff writer for Complex Media. Follow him @ADiaz456.