The Brilliant Failure

“I feel confident cause I’m the best player in the world,” LeBron James said after Game 5.

“I feel unconfident and am losing this series cause Tristan Thompson is the second best player on this team right now.”

Okay, LeBron didn’t say the second thing, perhaps because Thompson was sitting right next to him, but more likely because human beings, particularly athletes, don’t possess the insensitivity and bluntness to make such a claim[1] in the public air. LeBron won’t throw his teammates under the bus because he doesn’t have to, society recognizes it and does it for him. Equally LeBron shouldn’t have to voice his rightly throne to the title of Best Player in the World because society should it do it for him. But how can you be the best at something you aren’t even winning at?

Because while greatness is buoyed by victory, it isn’t defined by it. If ever there was proof of that notion, it has come in these NBA Finals as Golden State needs just one more win to closeout LeBron’s Cavaliers and send him to his fourth Finals loss.

lebron loss

While the series is not over, LeBron’s failure to deliver Cleveland the elusive championship it has coveted in utter anguish for the past half-century seems imminent. Yet, he has given the city hope while playing amongst castoffs, developmental projects, aging veterans and the player responsible for the shortest-lived era in sports history[2], and that in itself is a lofty achievement.

LeBron has put forth one of the most dominant and mesmerizing performances in history, and with one more loss, it will represent nothing more than another blemish the most ardent LeBron haters point to in comparisons to past NBA greats. I understand the fascinations with historical player comparisons, but it doesn’t trump my fascination for the game of basketball itself. What LeBron is doing in these Finals isn’t a testament to one’s disposition toward LeBron, but toward the game.

nba finals

LeBron has sifted through his array of skills accordingly in this series, attempting to combat the Warriors’ strengths and his own team’s immense weaknesses. His numbers have been otherworldly averaging 36.6 PPG, 12.4 RPG and 8.8 APG in 45.6 minutes per game, while accounting for 66 percent of the Cavaliers’ offensive production in this series via either direct scoring or assists. Also during his time spent on the floor during the Finals, LeBron has totaled 56.4 percent of the Cavs assists and 41.5 percent of the team’s scoring equaling an unfathomable 97.9 percent[3]! Without LeBron on the court, the Cavs’ collective numbers mirror those of high school teams. The Cavs are averaging a horrifying 54.6 points and are being outscored by an outlandish 39.2 points per 100 possessions with LeBron on the bench, hence his paltry 22 total minutes of rest in the Finals.

lebron finals 2

The numbers offer reaffirmation of LeBron’s burden and his capability to handle such a grueling task, but his actual play lends itself to the utmost appreciation and appraisal. LeBron has combined his physical and mental prestige to produce a Finals montage exhibiting his game as an imposing force of nature. He’s bullied the likes of Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and even Andre Iguodala in the low post with his punishing physicality, expertly-developed footwork and decisive moves toward the rim. He’s cautioned Golden State’s help defense and hard double teams through his heady court awareness as he contorts his body and zips stupefying passes from impossible angles to open shooters[4]. He’s attacked out of pick-and-rolls and isolations, colliding with a defender in midair as another hacks down on his arms before still dropping the ball in for two points. LeBron has dictated the Finals to the extent of his own exhaustion, making incredible physical and mental feats appear completely ordinary.

lebron rim

I’m not attempting to advocate LeBron’s right to the Finals MVP even if his team loses[5], I’m advocating for the appreciation of what he has done in this series. Challenging a team of the Warriors pedigree with his band of underwhelming teammates has pedestaled his performance amid the finest in Finals history and has further enhanced his position as an outlier among NBA legends[6].

Yet, sports are an unfair world, where winning is rightly and virtually the sole evaluator of success or failure. Well failure is looming LeBron, so what else can you do?

lebron

[1] I mean, not even Kobe would say that. Well, at least not if he was having at least an okay day.

[2] The Delly Era. Length of era- approximately 1.5 games.

[3] By contrast, Steph Curry has 31.9 percent of the Warriors assists and 30.1 percent of the scoring, equaling a total of 62 percent.

[4] Who usually miss.

[5] This has become such a hot debate that doesn’t matter. LeBron has been the best player in this series without question, and whether he wins the MVP or not, that won’t change.

[6] Think about it. What other NBA legends have performed in the NBA Finals on multiple occasions with the lack of help LeBron has? Both his Cavs teams were simply overwhelmed by the opponent in terms of personnel. Last year’s Heat team didn’t stand a chance against the Spurs. Even the 2012 Heat were initially underdogs against the Thunder heading into the series.

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