LeBron James’ fourth title puts compelling twist on GOAT debate vs. Michael Jordan
When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers two years ago to join a really lousy Los Angeles Lakers team that hadn't won 40 games or made the playoffs since 2013 (when they lost in the first round), there were many critics felt the change was imminent in lifestyle, business interests, and weather.
It turned out pretty quickly that it was about winning another (at least) NBA championship. In doing so, it not only adds a data point to its eternal “Greatest of All Time” debate with Michael Jordan, but actually changes the terms of the argument as a whole.
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The NBA Finals MVP, James, scored 28 points and had 14 rebounds and 10 assists on Sunday night to lead Los Angeles over the Miami Heat 106-93. He won the final 4-2 for the franchise's 17th NBA Championship. It was LeBron's fourth personal title (and fourth MVP award in the finals), in addition to the two he won in Miami (2012-13) and one in Cleveland (2016).
That fourth title is unlikely to affect the pro-Michael crowd. After all, Jordan has six titles in six finals, none of which went beyond six games. LeBron is only 4-6 in the final, though his 10 finals, including nine of the last 10, are a round-up in itself.
However, the Lakers are the third franchise that LeBron has brought to the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and make no mistake, it brought the Lakers there. They only won 35 games in the year before he arrived. Anthony Davis got into a blockbuster deal a season later, but LeBron's presence helped make the Lakers attractive.
LeBron James Dunks during the first half in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night. (AP Photo / Mark J. Terrill)
In terms of the MJ-LeBron battle, this is a plus for James. He is now the central figure (or co-central figure) for four championships in three completely different teams.
He joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (not to mention Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and others) to form a Supersquad in Miami and won twice. He then returned to Cleveland to lead a smaller group to a heroic 3-1 final against the mighty Golden State Warriors. Now he hibernated a Lakers franchise and won again.
Michael Jordan didn't do that.
That doesn't mean Jordan should be punished for it. At least he didn't have the chance. He only played for the Chicago Bulls (at least for a memorable few years with Washington aged 38 and 39).
Despite Jordan's many feuds with Bulls management, the franchise was expertly run and trained while he was there. Jerry Krause, Jordan's archenemy and GM of the cops, skillfully rebuilt the supporting cast around the triumvirate of Jordan, Scottie Pippen and trainer Phil Jackson.
Jordan's first three titles were won with Horace Grant, B. J. Armstrong, Bill Cartwright and John Paxson. After nearly two years of experimenting with baseball, Jordan was back full-time with Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley and Steve Kerr as supporting actors.
If LeBron had that kind of stability and talent around him, he might never have left Cleveland. Instead, he was bailed for mismanagement.
Not only did he find great players in Miami, but also the Pat Riley dominated culture of heat. After four years and four finals, James took what he'd learned, returned to Cleveland, and eventually delivered a long-awaited title for Northeast Ohio fans. He felt he owed them that.
Still, Cleveland could never bring it all together. James, who even gives the Cavs a single title, has local fans celebrating the era. But at some point, basketball historians will look back and wonder how Cleveland could have had one of the greatest - if not the greatest - player of all time (or certainly his generation) for eleven seasons with the club in two seasons with only one championship.
With regards to the Jordan debate, the whole thing can now be redesigned - with LeBron still able to add a fifth championship or more to his collection. LA should be a favorite headline next year too - if that one came up a year earlier, if that. And while James turns 36 in December, there's clearly something left in the tank.
For a long time LeBron had the problem that he was enjoying the weak Eastern Conference. Well that's over. The Lakers own the West.
By rebuilding the Lakers almost overnight, LeBron can counter Jordan's perfect record in the final (something he obviously can never achieve) with a completely different perspective (which Jordan can never achieve).
LeBron won wherever he went. If you can find a team, LeBron will provide a title.
He is able to overcome dysfunction, rebuilds, various coaches and insecurities with a combination of talent, attitude and leadership. He is the X factor.
Is that better than a 6-0 final for Michael Jordan with a brilliantly run Bulls organization?
If nothing else, it's a new twist on the old debate.
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