LeBron James is Larry Holmes.
Let’s face it. Neither deserves much credit for beating lesser competition.
And before you trip and think it’s a dis, it’s not. The comparison is more true than not.
Holmes won his first 48 professional fights, falling one short of Rocky Mariano’s career record of 49-0 when he lost to Michael Spinks in 1985. But even during his undefeated reign in the ring, few regarded Holmes as the greatest fighter ever. Sure, Holmes beat everyone in his path. But most never really believed he had fought anyone or that he had a real rival. Most of his opponents were either cupcakes, formerly big names or boxers past their prime.
Some think the same holds true for James. Fair or not, James’ dominance in the Eastern Conference isn’t that impressive when you take an honest look at the competition.
In a few first-round series over the years, you could have easily replaced any NBA team with the Washington Generals and few would have noticed. That’s how comical some of the match-ups have been. The only thing missing in some of those lopsided series was LeBron throwing a bucket of confetti during the game.
As James’ Cleveland Cavaliers swept the woeful Toronto Raptors on Sunday to move into the Eastern Conference Finals again, folks are acting as what we are watching is unseen, almost biblical.
It’s simply bad basketball and poor competition.
Granted, it’s not James fault. He can only play the teams on the schedule. But the Indiana Pacers, who the Cavs swept in the first round, and Raptors are bad, almost embarrassing. And it does matter who you beat.
That’s why Ali was considered by many to be the greatest of all-time despite others having better lifetime records. Ali fought in the glory days of the heavyweight division. He beat the greats, including Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and George Foreman.
The same can’t be said about Holmes. Outside of his victory against Ali, who was fighting in the second to last fight of his career at age 38, some of Holmes’ big fights included one with Gerry Cooney and one against Randall “Tex” Cobb. In a brutal, one-sided fight, Holmes beat Cobb so bad that sportscaster Howard Cosell quit broadcasting boxing after the fight. Since when is that greatness?
In watching James dismantle a “softer” NBA, especially in the East, some have tried to convince you that you’re watching something special.
Yes, some want you to believe it’s simply that James is that good. Nope.
Even Cosell didn’t try to convince America that beating up non-competition is great. In fact, it’s a fraud. It’s not what sports is about.
That’s where LeBron’s legacy will suffer when his career is all said and done. It won’t just be that he won, but who he beat to win.
It’s the difference between why he dominates in the Eastern playoffs, but is just 3-4 in NBA Finals.
Normally, that opponent you meet in the championship is the best you will have faced, which is why people can’t let go of the idea that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever. Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were 6-0 in NBA Finals and he won all six Finals MVPs.
Same goes for San Francisco QB Joe Montana. He was 4-0 in Super Bowls with three SB MVPs. He also threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in his four victories.
It’s not hard to debate someone’s greatness when they are perfect against the biggest and best, all while on the biggest stage with everyone watching.
For sure, James cemented this legacy forever last June. Not only did he deliver a championship to Cleveland for the first time since 1964, he also put his team on his back and led them in overcoming a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. It was the first time in league history that anyone had come back from a 3-1 hole to win the championship.
In a few weeks, James will advance to his seventh straight NBA Finals and eighth in his career. Impressive, sort of.
If only there were other great players in his division not on his team. If only LeBron was truly tested during his outstanding NBA career. Better yet, if only LeBron had won every time he went to the Finals.
If all that happened, there would be no doubt about his greatness or him as the all-time best.
Instead, James’ career looks more like Holmes. Sure, Holmes was great, just not the greatest. The same goes for LeBron.