It doesn’t take much for a sports fan to find themselves in a “Greatest Ever” debate these days…not if you have Twitter on your phone or find yourself eavesdropping at your local sports bar. With the NBA Finals fully under way, and the series tied at one game a piece between the best team in the NBA and the team with the best player in the NBA, there seems to be more focus on Michael Jordan vs LeBron James than the actual series itself.
“Call me when LeBron gets 6 rings!”
“Look at his supporting cast!”
“See that? If LeBron was so great the Cavs would have won the game in regulation.”
This is just a microscopic sample of some of the comments that the keyboard bullies post daily online. Now, this column is not meant to fuel the debate of who is the G.O.A.T., one that that I think is worth debating…but not right now. Not this summer. And not next year, either. Let’s let LeBron’s career fully develop before we have that conversation. After all, it appears as if the man is just now playing the best basketball we’ve seen out of him. It should be clear by now that LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet, so let’s leave Michael Jordan out of it and just focus on the Finals.
This column is just meant to be a friendly reminder to enjoy this NBA Finals matchup. No matter your rooting interest, this should be a VERY exciting time for sports fans to enjoy some truly special basketball. We get to watch the best player in the world go up against a very talented Warriors team led by the MVP of the league.
One on hand, you have the Golden State Warriors. The best team in the NBA all season long, the Western Conference Champions, and winners of 67 games during the regular season. The duo of 2015 NBA MVP Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, known as “The Splash Brothers” offer an extremely exciting style of team basketball, featuring great ball-handling, behind-the-back passes, and 3-pointers from no-business angels. Many people in the sports community pegged them as the favorites heading into the Finals, and maybe rightfully so.
On the other side, you have the Cleveland Cavaliers, who hobbled their way to a 4 game sweep of the Eastern Conference’s number one seed, the Atlanta Hawks, to win the East and send LeBron James to his 5th straight NBA Finals, making him the first person in 40 years to do so. Plagued by injuries, such as Kevin Love suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Boston in the first round, Kyrie Irving getting hurt in the conference finals, only to battle back and suffer a season ending fractured knee cap in game 1 of The Finals, or LeBron’s shoulders hurting from carrying this Cleveland team to their first Finals appearance since 2007, this team can truly go as far as James can take them.
FiveThirtyEight.com gives some statistics that are pretty eye-opening. By taking each team to reach the NBA Finals over the past 30 years, they took each team’s best player, and then proceeded to rate their supporting cast based on a plus/minus system. Steph Curry’s Warriors teammates are the 14th most-talented supporting cast since 1985, scoring a rating of 4.5. On the flip side, LeBron’s Cavaliers team scored the 3rd worst rating of any team to reach the NBA Finals during that same span, scoring a -0.1 teammate rating.
That really is a true testament to how special of a player LeBron James is to the game of basketball. Of the 60 teams on that list rating the supporting cast around their best player, both the 2006 and 2015 James-led Cavalier teams find themselves right there at the bottom.
Now, as previously mentioned, without getting into the “Greatest Ever” debate people love to find themselves in, there are a few things we can do without mentioning Michael Jordan or number of titles.
We can accept that LeBron James is the best player on the planet.
We can enjoy watching the MVP try to will his Warriors team to their first title in 40 years.
We can get excited watching guys like Michael Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert try to fill the void left by superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, as Cleveland looks to end the city’s championship drought of over 50 years.
We can simply watch the NBA Finals and leave all of this “Jordan vs LeBron” talk for another day. Game 3 is on Tuesday night as the series shifts to Cleveland, and if the first two games were any preview, the rest of the series should be incredible. With both games 1 and 2 turning into overtime thrillers, the series is now a best-of-five bout between Golden State and Cleveland…so get your popcorn ready!
+ By Paul Reindl, producer at the Mighty 1090 and ESPN 1700