Sometimes, I can’t believe what I hear on the airwaves. The premature talk about LeBron James shouldn’t exist. Not because he isn’t a once in a lifetime NBA player. It’s due to his career being far from over. The 28-year old has much to prove before we start defining his legacy. Tonight, the Miami Heat start their NBA Finals Series against the San Antonio Spurs. It’s James’ fourth Finals appearance. He’s 1-2 including a nightmarish sweep in ’07 against those same Spurs.
Of course, much has been made of King James exacting revenge for a loss with a lesser roster in Cleveland. That was six years ago. It’s much different. He’s more dominant than ever before. James doesn’t make the same mistakes which plagued him before last year’s title run. He can take over at any moment. Most notably, the league MVP saves it for the second half like in a crucial Game Five win over the Pacers. He doesn’t have to get 50. He can score or distribute which makes him dangerous. Combine his pure athleticism and defensive capabilities and you have a valid argument that he’s already one of the all-time best.
It’s important to distinguish fact from fiction. James already has put up remarkable numbers. His combination of size, speed and strength is uncanny. It’s a rare breed which defies one of the most electrifying players in basketball history. However, the comparisons to Michael Jordan must stop. There was only one MJ. Let’s leave it at that. Air Jordan is the greatest player of all-time. He was six for six in the Finals dominating like no other. It shouldn’t be about that. Rather another great player who’s still trying to make his mark. The Heat aren’t what they once were. Dwyane Wade is a year older and a step slower due to balky knees. Chris Bosh is hit or miss. The role players are more vital. Last year, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem came through. This year, they’re still there along with Chris Andersen and Ray Allen. It varies game to game who Erik Spoelstra relies on.
Against the Spurs, the Heat must be at their best. Without a doubt, you know LeBron will be. This isn’t ’07. He’s matured and can impact a game like no other. San Antonio boasts the trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Parker is now the most lethal able to slice and dice defenses while stepping out from the perimeter. Duncan is still formidable and could be a match up headache. Ginobili isn’t as consistent but must be accounted for. At any moment, he can get hot. San Antonio has better depth with well respected coach Gregg Popovich getting the most out of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter. He isn’t afraid to go to Gary Neal or vets Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw. Perhaps the most intriguing thing is the coaching match-up which pits a four-time championship winner against a younger first-time one who aims for a repeat led by the game’s best. This is a part that’s being overlooked.
Is Miami that much better than San Antonio? I don’t think so. Much depends on what LeBron gets out of sidekicks Wade and Bosh. They can’t show up when they want. That might’ve worked against a less experienced roster in the last round. It won’t against the Spurs. Unless their youth and athleticism is too much, I expect a long competitive series. Don’t be shocked if it goes the full seven. I’ve underestimated San Antonio all year. They shouldn’t be taken lightly anymore. They’re more rested which should benefit vets like Duncan and Ginobili.
One way or another, James will complete his fourth Finals. It shouldn’t fall all on his shoulders. If it does, Miami could be in trouble. Let the man play. Judge him when his career is over. He’s still got a lot ahead. Enjoy him while we can.