Guest Article Written by Milton Herman
The 1969 NBA Finals was the last title won by Bill Russell and his Celtics. It was also the first and last time a player from the losing team was awarded MVP, given to Jerry West, who averaged 38 points per game during the series. The series was stored away in the history books but was discussed again during the 2015 NBA Finals, thanks to the performance of one Lebron James. The NBA’s best player posted an all-time great performance and was in the running for Finals MVP despite losing the series. This marks the perfect opportunity to reflect on the legacy of King James and how much stock should be put into his 2-6 Finals record.
Photo by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons
The Struggle: Finals Record 0-2
The 2010-2011 finals were the lowest point in Lebron’s career. Following a widely publicized signing with the Miami Heat, the infamous “not 6, not 7 titles” introduction speech, James came up short in the second finals and lost to the Dallas Mavericks. James averaged 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists, impressive numbers for most NBA players but pedestrian for the now four-time MVP. Lebron averaged more points and had a lower turnover percentage four years earlier when his out-manned Cavs were swept by the Spurs, which was the first stumbling block on the long road to a championship.
Following the loss to the Mavs, few argued Lebron’s greatness and his place among the league’s elite — but the opinion that Lebron wasn’t clutch and failed under pressure became louder. In addition, James had played the entire year as a “villain” — angry with how fans reacted to “The Decision,” he went through the year with a chip on his soldier. Following two weeks of reflection after the finals loss, Lebron told ESPN he was done with the villain role, saying, “I got to this point by playing this game a certain way, (I’m) getting back to loving the game and having fun with the game.”
The Gratification: Finals Record 2-3
The following seasons, Lebron proved playing for the love of the game was his key for success. Back-to-back seasons he was NBA MVP, Finals MVP and Finals champion. No longer could anyone claim, “Lebron will never win a title,” a thought that seems incredibly naive today as James appears in the finals year after year despite the team around him. James was now 2-2 finals and was just entering the prime of his career. By averaging 25-plus points and being a triple double candidate on any given night, Lebron had become a sort of lifetime MVP candidate, similar to Michael Jordan before him.
The Heat were in the finals the following season in a rematch against the Spurs. This marked Lebron’s fourth straight finals, an accomplishment only Bill Russel can claim. The Spurs seemed to have the perfect team formula to beat James, backed with their big 3 of Hall of Famers and the rise of Kawhii Leonard. The Spurs took down the Heat and set the stage for Lebron’s defining moment, which would take place off the court.
The Return: Finals Record 2-4
On Oct. 30, 2014, Lebron stepped onto the court as a Cleveland Cavalier once again. Behind a spectacle of 10-story banners, ecstatic fans and a decision written in his own words instead of a TV spectacle, James had transitioned from phenom to villain to hero. There will always be haters, but the move back home silenced many who called James a coward for leaving his home state to play with a stacked Heat team.
Then, as a injured Cavs team pushed through the Eastern Conference en route to a finals matchup with the Warriors, Lebron was again on the Finals stage. He did not disappoint. Without Kevin Love and after losing Kyrie Irving in game one, James was forced to carry the scoring load. He scored 38.3 percent of his team’s points, a mark topped only by Michael Jordan (38.4 percent) in the 1993 Finals. He was also the best player on the floor. He led both teams in points, assists and rebounds, a first in NBA finals history.
Takeaway: Appreciate the Greatness
NBA fans have seen Lebron grow up in the limelight. Becoming a national celebrity at the age of 18 is not something any of us have to deal with. The hype was immense, and social media elevated the pressure like never before. No one can argue that Lebron lived up to the hype. Twelve seasons, four MVPs, six Finals appearances, he’s missed more than 10 games only twice and has never had off-the-court issues. He’s now been in five straight finals and doesn’t show much sign of slowing down. Lebron isn’t short on confidence, either — after Game 5 of the Finals, he said he was the best player in the world, the Dish Insider’s Guide reports.
The only question mark with Lebron is with his coach, David Blatt. It’s been reported that James seems to overrule the coach on play calls and tactics. Only time will tell if they can co-exist or if Lebron truly wants to play for someone else. Regardless, with Kevin Love resigning and another year of building chemistry with his new team, the Cavs are likely to be title contenders as long as number 23 is in uniform.
Milton Herman is a content strategist and writer based in Phoenix, Ariz. A sports journalist by trade, his passion involves sharing inspiring stories that fascinate people from all walks of life.