LeBron’s legacy — 3-5 Finals record and all — is as intact as MJ’s – ESPN
OAKLAND, Calif. — For a moment, just imagine if LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Toronto Raptors in the second round of the playoffs.
Now imagine those Raptors moving on to the NBA Finals, eventually getting swept by the league’s best team, the 2017 champion Golden State Warriors.
What would the commentary be surrounding James right now? In today’s hot-take culture and with all the in-progress legacy judging, what sort of scrutiny would James be facing on a daily basis?
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Here’s why that question is relevant: James, at age 32, just ended this Finals run short of winning a fourth championship.
Now let’s step back to 1995 for a moment. That year a 32-year-old Michael Jordan lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Orlando Magic, a team that eventually got roasted in the Finals by the Houston Rockets in a sweep. Jordan’s attempt at winning his fourth title came up short — well short, in fact.
James has already graduated to no longer playing against just the opponents in front of him and instead must grapple with an invisible man to feed the appetite of the modern sports fan.
Jordan hasn’t taken a shot in the NBA in 14 years and hasn’t played a playoff minute in almost 20, since sweeping past Bryon Russell and the Utah Jazz in 1998. Jordan’s body of work has aged like the fine red wine James will be drinking over the next few weeks as he decompresses from a fifth Finals loss.
Of course, the circumstances are different. Jordan took 18 months off after his first three title runs to play baseball. During that same span in James’ career, he has been busy dragging two Cleveland teams into the Finals to be series underdogs.
Jordan got a pass for losing to the Magic because he came back midseason that year. But a case could be made he had an advantage because he had fresh legs. He certainly didn’t come back expecting to lose in the playoffs; he came back to win the title that the Rockets walked away with.
When was the last time James got a pass for anything? Maybe for the 2015 Finals, when Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were stripped away with injuries and the Cavs lost in six games to the Warriors.
It didn’t feel like a pass when James spent the past year being told he was a Draymond Green Game 5 suspension away from having lost three straight Finals. James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the 2015 Finals. He finished this year’s with averages of 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, becoming the first player to average a triple-double in the Finals.