May 16, 2018 by Staff
Filed under News, Opinion, Sports, Weekly Columns

The most popular discussion going on in basketball circles nowadays revolves around whether or not LeBron James is the GOAT. For better or worse, your traditional basketball purist will laugh this media fabrication off without hesitation, while the casual NBA consumer sits back and sips the cash cow’s milk. From barbershops to blacktops, it is universally the go-to topic amongst fans of the game.

But what exactly has allowed this ridiculous narrative to continue brewing for so long? As great as LeBron is, what has caused the general consumer to so confidently place him alongside players who do not share nearly as many failures?

Let’s start by giving credit where credit is due.. LeBron is a once in a lifetime athlete. Physically, we have never seen anything like him. As far as size and athleticism go, LeBron is clearly head and shoulders ahead of the pack. The things he can do at his height combined with his strength are unparalleled. He can handle the ball, pass with the best of them, and has even improved on his once-questionable jump shot over the course of his career. LeBron’s overall ability for someone of his build is just absolutely incredible.
To have the opportunity to cover an athlete with such extraordinary gifts is like winning the lottery for an NBA journalist. But in order to fully capitalize on this opportunity, the journalists must first (dishonestly) propel the athlete to the highest of heights. Simply put, the greater LeBron James is made to appear, the more drawn to the coverage your average consumer will be.

Now that we covered the reasoning behind the fabrication of these LeBron James GOAT discussions, let’s delve into what steps are being taken in order to create these attention-grabbing headliners- In order to create these false narratives, one must first create an inordinate amount of excuses and passes for LeBron’s failures, as well as overly praise him for accomplishing what he is expected to accomplish.

Just take a look at where we are at now- the 2018 NBA playoffs, where the GOAT talks have gone into overdrive and increased tenfold. Looking at this objectively will leave you baffled:

First and foremost, LeBron James is not half the player he was in his prime; literally. His defense (which is still 50% of the game last time I checked) is atrocious nowadays, to say the least. But this rarely gets mentioned, if ever. Pretty strange that a player who was known for his strong defense during his best years is all of a sudden propelled to greater heights when half of his game falls completely off, wouldn’t you say? But they continue sipping…

Woeful defense aside, ask yourself, is the fact that the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers needed 7 games to barely escape a Victor Oladipo led Indiana Pacers team in the first round really the breath-taking accomplishment we were waiting for in order to anoint him the GOAT? Of course not- it is what should be expected. As a matter of fact, any GOAT level player would not have even needed 7 Games to get past an average 1st round opponent- especially not in the pitiful Eastern Conference. Yet the moment the Cavs won the series, the sports media spun it into some incredible achievement that, once again, elevated LeBron’s stature. And they keep sipping…

The elevating does not stop there, though… The Cavaliers 2nd round opponent was even worse! For as successful as the Toronto Raptors have been in the regular season, they have historically been just as terrible in the playoffs. In fact, you’ll probably find a picture of the Raptors logo in the dictionary if you look up the word mediocre. Considering LeBron has faced weak competition in the Eastern Conference playoffs throughout his career, another 2nd round victory should be the expectation, right?…Wrong! Not to the almighty sports media, at least. To the world of over-the-top journalism, it was LeBron once again doing the unthinkable and erasing the entire country of Canada off the map on his quest to reminding everyone why he is the GOAT- He beat Toronto!! Sip…

Now we find ourselves in the midst of the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Cleveland Cavaliers are currently trailing 0-2 in their series against the Boston Celtics… and just as fast as the sports journalists were to overly praise LeBron for meeting expectations, they will be even faster to dismiss his failures and find every excuse in the book as to why he is currently losing to a team led by rookies and sophomores. A team without a superstar. A team whose two best players are not even active for the series. Of course, when it comes to the Cavaliers, the blame is always placed on anyone other than LeBron. The series is not over- not by a longshot. Afterall, the Celtics simply protected their home court, and now it is up to the Cavaliers to head home and take care of business in Cleveland.

But you can bet your bottom dollar that if the Cavs lose this series, the excuses for LeBron will start piling up like there is no tomorrow. His teammates will receive the bulk of the blame, while LeBron’s legacy will, once again, go unscathed. As addressed in the “Kyrie Irving Requested a Trade Because LeBron James Hinders Teammates” piece- this is the exact reason Kyrie no longer wanted any parts of staying in Cleveland last summer. LeBron basically has a supporting cast on the same level as the team Kobe Bryant took to back-to-back championships in 2009-2010 (in the superior Western Conference nonetheless), but once LeBron starts losing, the narrative casually shifts to “he doesn’t have any help!”

The infamous system popularized as “LeBron Ball“, which allows LeBron to put up incredible individual statistics as the entire offense flows through him, is the same system that ultimately handicaps his teammates in the long run. In comparison, when watching Kobe Bryant’s new show “Detail” on ESPN, one can fully understand the genius of top-tier basketball acumen. It’s the little things that don’t show up in the box score that separate the greats from the GOATs. Players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant knew how to maximize their teammates potential by studying their sweet spots, getting them the ball where they like it, and finding holes in the defense prior to making a pass that would lead to an assist.

LeBron generally pounds the ball, and instead of reading how the defense unfolds, he simply looks for the “home-run pass” that will lead directly to a basket if he can not find a shot for himself. A lot of the times, this pass will also come with the shot clock winding down and with the recipient totally out of position to score or make a play. How does this benefit LeBron individually? If his teammate makes the basket, LeBron gets the assist – if LeBron finally finds the shot he wants, then LeBron gets the points.. and because those statistics are a major factor in the overstating of his greatness, he continues to play this way, despite how detrimental it may be to the ball movement and overall success of his team.

This is why relying solely on analytics (which is considered the modern day end-all-be-all of judging players) typically results in skewed opinions. Stats can be padded. Players like Russell Westbrook and LeBron James, albeit great, are living proof that one can inflate his own statistics if given the green light. But this inflation of stats typically comes at the expense of your teammates’ overall performance. From Kevin Love (who was a superstar big man prior to joining LeBron) to Rodney Hood (who was a fantastic role player averaging 17 points per game for the Utah Jazz before being traded to the Cavs), they all have on thing in common- they are unequivocally victims of LeBron Ball.
When factoring all this in, it’s not hard to see why LeBron James has gone 3/8 in Finals play, despite being known as a front-runner who has had the privilege of hand-picking his own superteams since 2010. Although 3 rings is undeniably a noteworthy achievement in its own, other players in history have won more in fewer attempts without having this same privilege. LeBron has always gone as far as his team takes him.

That being said, is LeBron James an all-time great? Absolutely. Is he a GOAT level player, as advertised? It will take a whole lot of winning in the next couple of years for anyone to genuinely come to such a conclusion.
So will the real GOAT please stand up or will the general consensus be forced to collectively sip until someone comes along and slaps the cup out of their hand?