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LeBron’s NBA Legacy Is Not On The Line 

I'm quite amused at the LeBron haters who are basking in the Cavaliers being blown out thus far by the widest margin of any team throughout the first two games of any NBA Finals ever played.

I’m quite amused at the LeBron haters who are basking in the Cavaliers being blown out thus far by the widest margin of any team throughout the first two games of any NBA Finals ever played.

I could understand it if there was a profound swell of anti-Cleveland allegiances, sort of like everyone in Boston getting doodoo-faced and doing a collective, citywide Macarena after the Celtics crushed the Lakers 148-114 in Game 1’s Memorial Day Massacre of the ’85 Finals.

(Yeah, yeah, the Macarena popped off in the ’90s, but work with me here. It’s very difficult to think of a dance, other than the YMCA, that every caucasion person has the capacity to excel at)

Boston fans loathe the Lakers with a unique type of venom that is reserved for the best rivalries in all of sports. And the feeling out in L.A. is reciprocated.


In every stylistic way, the cities are polar opposites. The respective abhorrence on both sides of the spectrum is long-standing and has been ingrained in the psyche of multi-generational fan bases. It’s exculpatory. I get it.


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(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The first NBA dynasty was the Lakers, who were based in Minneapolis at the time, in the early ’50s. The Celtics came charging hard behind them, and when the teams met for the first time in the Finals, Boston swept them in ’59. It was the first Finals sweep ever.

They’ve clashed 12 times in Finals history with Boston winning nine, including each of the first eight. 


From George Mikan to Bob Cousy, Wilt to Bill Russell, Larry Bird to Magic, and Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, KG and Rondo to Kobe, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and D.J. Mbenga (just wanted to see who was paying attention), this rivalry has grown and intensified.

But this collective hate from every quadrant of America directed towards Cleveland takes much more effort to explain.


Maybe it hearkens back to a tight-assed societal segment that was furious – back in the ’70s after the Cavs first entered the NBA as an expansion franchise – with the Ohio Players album art that they erroneously associated with the team.

(Yeah! Yeah! Tell ’em why you mad, son!) 

Or maybe not.

Perhaps so many people hate the franchise because ever since the worst owner ever, Ted Stepien, sold the team in the early ’80s, they were no longer the laughingstock of the league that you could trade a bum like Mike Bratz for and receive a first-round pick in return.

Or maybe not.



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(Photo Credit: Getty Images)


But seriously, didn’t you ever wonder how the Lakers, after having won the NBA Championship in 1982 with Magic and Kareem, wound up with the overall #1 pick in the ensuing draft, which turned into Big Game James Worthy? Stepien’s fingerprints were all over the success of an inordinate number of teams other than his own.

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Having him around was like taking those Glen Rice Nautica’s that your Mee-maw bought you, and swapping them with the cornball at school for a pair of the Jordan 1’s that MJ wore in the 63-point jammy against the Celtics in the ’86 playoffs.

Perhaps it was because after taking in a Cavs road game against their local team, an overwhelming majority of upper middle class and wealthy folks suffered from incurable nightmares of Tyrone Hill dating their daughters.

It was probably all of the above. Or maybe not.


I’m sure it had nothing to do with the one man who is the NBA’s best overall player since Michael Jordan. This guy, Lebron James, who happens to be one of the best role models in modern day sports in terms of his unselfishness as a facilitator, competitiveness, ability to elevate lesser talents around him and his acumen as an entrepreneur and astute businessman that will help him become the very first active billionaire player in all of sports.

Let me let you in on a secret folks, if you think whatever happens in this series will be the legacy that he leaves behind – your orbit around reality is comparable to Tyrone Biggums’.

Because Lebron’s legacy is already secure.

His legacy is that he made good on the early Nike Witness ad campaign since he was a mere 18 years old, while playing a brilliant, complete brand of excellent basketball that is only reserved for a mere fraction of historys greatest players. His legacy is that he stomped the mute button long ago into Skip Bayless and like-minded sports mental midgets. 


His legacy is that he returned to a city that treated him like shit after winning two titles in Miami when he exercised his hard-earned rights as a free agent, and gave people in Cleveland legit championship dreams once again.


His legacy is that he became the first NBA rookie since Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson to average at least 20 points, five assists and five rebounds a game, that he averaged 27, seven and seven en route to becoming the youngest player ever to make an All-NBA team the next year.

His legacy is that he put up a triple-double in his playoff debut the season after and averaged an insane 31 points, seven boards and seven assists per game, when even Ray Charles could see that he deserved to win the league MVP ahead of the eventual winner, the Suns Steve Nash.

His legacy is that in the summer of 2007, against a consistently excellent Detroit Pistons team in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, IN DETROIT, he scored 29 of the Cavs last 30 points, including the game-winner with two seconds left, en route to a 48-point, nine-rebound and seven-assist performance that even Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan could be jealous of?

His legacy is that he gave us The LeBron’s!

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His legacy is that he took a team of bums that couldnt hold next at the Sheboygan YMCA without him to the NBA Finals that year, and last year as well. His legacy is that no player has appeared in six consecutive NBA Finals since the Celtics dynasty of the ’60s.



His legacy is that he currently sits fourth all time on the NBA’s postseason scoring list, ahead of greats like Shaq, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, Dr. J, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elgin Baylor and so many others. He’s got more assists than anyone in the history of the playoffs other than Magic Johnson and John Stockton. And he’s also tenth all time on the postseason rebounds list, with more boards in the playoffs than guys like Charles Barkley, Bird, Dennis Rodman and Olajuwon. 

A few years ago, I asked the great Oscar Robertson, the only player to ever average a triple-double for an entire season, what his thoughts were on LeBron. 


Everybody has such high expectations for him that its almost impossible,” replied The Big O. “If he shoots, they say he shoots too much, if he passes and they dont win, he gets criticized by people who say he should shoot more. Hes going to get criticized either way and theyll blame him if they lose, no matter how he does or how good he is.

I think hes a great player, but you need help to win championships. Hey you have to be lucky to win. You have to have a good management team that puts the right players around you and makes the right trades in order to give you a better chance. But people in the media want to tell you what greatness is. That really bothers me.

I know there are a lot of writers and TV people who havent played who are knowledgeable, but most of them arent. They just make statements without any realism. I was talking to Bill Russell the other day and he said the exact same thing. And he won more rings than anybody!



I don’t know about you, but I’ll take The Big O and Bill Russell’s word for it, as opposed to some moron on Facebook that insists that LeBron is terrible. 

The man has two rings, he’s a two-time Finals MVP, a four-time league MVP and he’s been selected to 12 NBA All-Star teams, 12 All-NBA teams, and six All-Defensive teams. But none of it seems to be good enough.

Basketball is not boxing, people, it’s a team sport.

And in case you haven’t been watching, the Golden State Warriors are a historically great team that could quite possibly be the best ever in the history of professional basketball. They walk into battle with a hit squad.

And LeBron walks into battle with himself.



Everybody sees Klay Thompson and Steph Curry’s three-pointers, but they don’t see the brilliant overall offensive execution and an entire team with incredible depth and intelligence that also plays exceptional defense.

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Last year, the Warriors were Sosa’s assassins, and Lebron was Tony Montana, left to stand by himself, fighting to the death while uttering, “OK you cockaroaches. C’mon!”

To see how terrible Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have been defensively in these opening two games, how atrocious J.R. Smith has been offensively, how Richard Jefferson, yes 157-year-old Richard Jefferson was the second-best Cavs player on the floor last night, it’s evident that Cleveland is once again woefully undermanned.

That’s not LeBron’s fault. 

If you think it is, I’m sorry to inform you of your ignorance to the confluence of overall team talent and coaching necessary to win an NBA Championship. His herculean efforts to lift substandard squads deserves a nod of appreciation rather than silly individual comparisons to Jordan, Magic, Kobe and Bird.



The true comparison, if you feel the need to make one, is a look at those guys’ respective teams, each of them boasting a number of Hall of Famer’s.

If anybody’s legacy is on the line, it’s Kyrie and Kevin Love, who have yet to prove that they’re the championship type of superstars that many have predicted they’d be one day when this Cleveland team reached maturity.

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(Photo Credit: USA Today)


The mirage was that, after having so thoroughly dominated in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Cavs had closed the gap.

That notion has been collapsed by Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, who are the catalysts of this historical two-game maceration of the Cavs thus far, while Curry and Thompson have been supporting cast members.


My neck is more sore right now than Stone and Robert screaming Whiplash in Cooley High, trying to follow the ball as the Warriors pass it around while making mincemeat of Cleveland’s suspect defense.

Yes, LeBron is going to have to elevate toward his MVP-like, most dominant form if he hopes to make this series remotely competitive. And leave Tyronn Lue out of this as well. He’s like Black Rob, who ran out of ammo and started throwing bottles.   

This series isn’t about LeBron’s legacy or Lue’s coaching.

It’s simply about appreciating Golden State’s greatness, even if James happens to be on the losing end again.

It’s so easy to blame one man, especially James, who’ll never measure up to the myth of Jordan winning everything single-handedly. But in an outcome that’s never the result of one single player, to do so is lazy and unintelligent.


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(Photo Credit: Getty Images)


You want to talk about legacies, we should be starting with this Golden State team, and how long this run of dominance can continue. Or how about Kyrie and Kevin Love, who need to justify all the accolades before they were truly earned within a championship crucible. 

LeBron? My man simply can’t win for losing.  

Ali

Alejandro “Ali” Danois is the Editor-in-Chief of The Shadow League. His features “Humble Beginnings”, and “Rocky Flop” were mentioned in the Best American Sports Writing Anthology as among the country’s most notable stories of 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Ali is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, and he served as a Producer on the ESPN Films 30-for-30 documentary “Baltimore Boys”.

Follow him on twitter @alidanois