For some, it became impossible for LeBron James to ever surpass Michael Jordan on June 14, 2007. That’s when the San Antonio Spurs completed their sweep of James’s Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. He’d lost and therefore he could never be greater than Jordan, who hadn’t. At 22 years old, King James was already finished. Championships were still possible, but being the GOAT was forever out of reach. Tough break, kid.
Heading into the 2016 finals, a lot has been made of legacy and history-making, whichever way things go. For LeBron, bringing a championship to Cleveland would complete one part of his homecoming plan, and would (allegedly) go a long way towards repairing a legacy (apparently) damaged by winning just two championships in six tries. For the Warriors, a title is the only acceptable cap for their NBA record 73-win season which will otherwise (clearly) be for nothing, and the only way they can be considered (perhaps) the greatest team ever.
This is all bullshit.
It’s hard for us to accept—Jordan and the Bulls aside—that we could actually be witnessing the best in real time.
People who don’t think LeBron is one of the greatest players ever—by which I mean top 10, if not top five—aren’t going to be swayed by one more championship, even if it comes at the expense of these Warriors. He nearly won the finals BY HIMSELF last year, averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per while playing nearly 46 minutes a game, and still some people just wanted to point to his inefficient shooting. Even if he wins this year, it will just be something else—he couldn’t do it without Kyrie Irving, maybe, or “oh, he wouldn’t have won had Steph Curry not been abducted by aliens after Game 2.” Already people are calling him out for not being better following a Game 1 loss where he missed a triple-double by one assist. Why admit to being wrong when it’s easier to move the goalposts? After all, even if he wins he’ll still only be 3-of-7 in the Finals.
As for the Warriors, their biggest problem to some is not having played in the ‘90s, where Karl Malone could have scrambled Curry’s brain with a well-placed elbow. Apparently being the best shooter in the history of the game isn’t enough, you need to do it while taking WWE-style blows. Then maybe you can be acknowledged as having been a historically great player. Team-wise? Those who think the Warriors are on par with Jordan’s Bulls already feel that way. Those who don’t won’t believe otherwise until the Warriors hop into a time machine and actually beat the Bulls in a seven-game series. Going down 3-1 to the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals? The Bulls never did that. Sure they won 73 games and a championship, but did anyone get concussed? Didn’t think so.
So let’s throw all this historical crap out the window and enjoy the history that’s being made instead. Let’s celebrate Shaun Livingston—whose career was nearly ended by a gruesome knee injury in 2007—dropping 20 points with zero turnovers in Game 1. Let’s wince as Kevin Love runs around like someone dropped a molly in his Gatorade bottle, desperately trying to figure out who he was supposed to stay with on pick-and-rolls. Let’s wait to see what team Anderson Varejao gets a ring with. Let’s watch LeBron go for three, Steph go for two, and leave the history for the historians.
Because there’s only one thing that will change perceptions, and that’s time. When the smoke from the hot take cannons has cleared and LeBron is on the Hall of Fame clock, maybe his career will be looked at differently. When the Splash Brothers have hit their last three and the NBA has been remade in their image—or hasn’t—we’ll look back and marvel at what they accomplished. That’s the thing about history, it tends to favor the historic; the people and teams that have been glossed with the sheen of memory. It’s hard for us to accept—Jordan and the Bulls aside—that we could actually be witnessing the best in real time.
Is LeBron one of the best to ever do it? Of course he is. Are the Warriors one of the best teams of all time? Of course they are. They’re currently battling for the championship. Let’s just watch and see what happens.