Lebron James is not now, nor will he ever be the NBA’s all-time “GOAT”. But in his own way, James is without question one of the best all-time. Whether it’s his on court performance, value to his teams, or what he has done outside of basketball, James truly is incredible.
In 2020, Lebron was crowned NBA champion for the 4th time in his career, as he helped lead the Lakers to the franchise’s 17th championship and first since 2010.
The Lebron greatness conversation always includes his Finals record (3-6). But to me, the most important number is 10. Lebron has played in the NBA Finals in 10 out of 18 seasons.
While 6 losses is nothing to brag about, it’s important to view them in the proper context.
2007 – Worst team ever
Cavs got swept by Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Drew Gooden (12.8 ppg) was the Cavs second leading scorer in the Finals. The lineup included James, Gooden, Sasha Pavlovic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Daniel Gibson.
This might legitimately be the worst NBA Finals team of all-time. But to get there, Lebron single-handily beat a legendary Pistons team in the Eastern Conference Finals.
2011 – No excuse
In James’ first year in Miami, the Heat lost to the Mavs. As great and well put-together as that Dallas team was, there is no excuse for this loss. Miami had the better team and this is the one Finals loss that stands out as inexcusable.
2014 – Great Spurs
This Spurs team was great, going 62-20. The 62 wins were the most during any of their 5 championship seasons. They beat the Heat in just 5 games. Kawhi Leonard got his first ring and Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili got their last ones.
2015 – No Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love
Do you need proof of Lebron’s greatness? Here it is.
Warriors won this series in 6 games, even though Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were both out due to injuries. Lebron was stuck with Timofey Mozgov, the team’s second leading scorer (14.0 ppg), Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, and Matthew Dellavedova, who was arguably the team’s second best player throughout the Finals.
2017 and 2018 – Warriors Super Team
2017 was the Warriors first year with Kevin Durant and coming off the blown 3-1 lead, no one ever had a chance of beating them.
In 2018, Cavs traded Kyrie Irving before the season for a damaged Isaiah Thomas and returned to the Finals with a new group that included George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr, and Rodney Hood, plus Love and Smith.
I’m not making excuses for James, but he is not the best player ever – Michael Jordan is and forever will be. But there’s a huge difference between Jordan and James. Jordan went 6-0 in the Finals against 6 teams inferior to his. James lost 6 Finals, 5 of which to teams superior to his.
On the other end of the spectrum, his four championships have all come under extraordinary circumstances.
2012 – lockout-shortened season
2012 was Lebron’s first championship, in his second season in Miami. Following the Heat’s 2011 loss to the Mavericks, the NBA experienced a lockout between players and owners. As a result, the season was delayed and didn’t start until Christmas Day and teams only played 50 regular season games.
But give the Heat credit for beating a Thunder team that had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka.
2013 – Ray Allen bailout
Again, give the Heat credit for beating an amazing Spurs team. Miami trailed the series 3-2 as they returned home for Game 6. Ray Allen, along with Chris Bosh, bailed out the Heat and literally saved the season.
After that, the Heat would go on to win Game 7, securing back-to-back championships.
2016 – 3-1 comeback
There is a lot to unpack here. The 2016 Warriors went an NBA-record 73-9 and led the Cavs 3-1 through 4 games of the series. In game 4, Draymond Green’s actions earned him a one-game suspension. Cavs won game 5, to give them some life in the series. They would win games 6 and 7 and complete the historic comeback. It was the Cavs’ first ever NBA title and the city of Cleveland’s first championship since the 1964 Browns’ NFL Championship (pre-NFL/AFL merger).
2020 – The Bubble
You know the story – NBA season was paused in March due to worldwide spread of coronavirus. The season resumed in July, inside a “bubble” environment. This meant no fans, no families. Just 100% basketball, all the time. Lakers ended their 7 year playoff drought and won their first playoff series since 2012. Lebron and Anthony Davis carried the Lakers past Blazers, Rockets, Nuggets, and Heat to win his 4th title.