As the last years of LeBron James wane down, title hunting is going to become more of an uphill fight than a fair fight only because he is trying to triumph over a dynasty that is younger than he is, has more iconic pieces than whatever team he might go to next year, and their major players, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, are still in their prime.
Speaking of Curry. He is probably going to tie LeBron in titles this year. Steph Curry has two NBA titles and if he prevails in a month his 3-1 record in the Finals at the age of 30, plus 3 NBA championships put him in elite company.
LeBron will beat Steph in MVP’s and Final MVP’s. LeBron will be ranked in the top-5 all time and although Steph is the best shooter of all time it ends there for him. That is why you can’t judge a player just on titles. Steph may win 5 NBA titles. Does that make him a better player than LeBron, equal to Kobe, a shade off of MJ? If LeBron loses in the Finals next month which is a sure bet, does his 3-6 Finals record doom him when analyzing the greatest ever to play the sportt?
Context matters in all things. When Steph was drafted in 2009, the same year as James Harden and DeMar DeRozan and Ricky Rubio, the house money was on him being an average player. It was hard for many to see where he fit. He was too small to be a shooting guard and his point guard skills weren’t highlighted at Davidson. Few thought he would be this kind of something something.
Steph had the luxury of never having to disprove a negative. His bar was so low anything he did was gravy. If he quit basketball tomorrow, he’d be in the Hall of Fame and everyone will say he had a great career. Steph isn’t a legacy player. LeBron is.
Look at it like this. No one has come into the league and shot the ball with the quickness and release and efficiency from three like Steph Curry despite the league skewing towards the three point shot. Not to be outdone, no one has come into the league with the size, athleticism, speed and power of LeBron.
Steph: 1. LeBron: 1. But it’s different.
If LeBron quit basketball tomorrow, there would be the hand wringing about LeBron not being Jordan and not winning more titles and he should have made nice nice with Kyrie and he was great for his era, a freak of nature, but Kevin Durant did beat him in the Finals twice (if the Cavs advance this year and the script plays out as expected) while LeBron only beat Durant once.
LeBron had everything on the line and everything to lose as an 18 year old. He was created to be a NBA player, a gifted physical specimen and talent, not to mention a genuinely brilliant mind and more ambition than he knows what to do with. He had thousands of people waiting to see him fail after his first pro game in Sacramento and when he didn’t he converted thousands but he still had to live up to the legend that was created by the LeBron machine. His bar was so high only 4 or 5 titles would do it justice. And so here he is stuck on 3.
If LeBron goes to the Rockets next year, they will have to give up Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon to fit in three max deals and still will have to dethrone Steph, Durant and company. If he goes to the Lakers with Paul George he has more help but the Lakers kids are two years away. Same as if he is in Philly. The 76ers have to deal with a Kyrie/Gordon Hayward Celtics. Wherever LeBron lands, including if he stays in Cleveland, he’s going to have to slay the Warriors monster and at 35 and 36 and 37 years old while Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson, not to mention Draymond Green, are much younger, it’s going to be hard.
As athletes age, the quest for everything becomes harder and harder on the body. You can’t get out of bed like you used to. You don’t practice like you used to. Recovery takes a lot longer. You see that light at the end of the tunnel.
If LeBron never wins another title, after he retires they will say he just couldn’t get over the Steph Curry mile high fence. But he still is one of the most brilliant players to come along, more than generational, the special of the special. But watching him try to climb a mountain all by himself, having to do everything and be everything when you know how this story is going to end takes a lot of a patience.
One man can’t beat a dynasty. LeBron will try.