Lakers great, Jerry West recently commented on the criticism LeBron James receives over his winning percentage in the NBA Finals. LeBron is currently 2-4 in the Finals and may be 2-5 if the Golden State Warriors get their act together and finish off LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Jerry West went 1-8 in the Finals, so he knows a thing or two about the disappointment LeBron has felt over the years.
West called the criticism LeBron gets over his losing Finals record “unjust and so unfair”. West backed up his comments by saying that all you have to do is take LeBron off the team and the results (assumed losses) will speak for themselves. Says West, “His body of work — my God, you should see the numbers across the board that he puts up there and people say, ‘Well, he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that.’ Is he playing with four other guys at any given time when he’s on the floor? Sometimes teams are just not as good of a team.”
West makes some valid points. Even legends like Magic, Kareem, Bird, and, of course, Jerry West himself didn’t win a championship every time they made it to the Finals. And they didn’t make the Finals every year, either. LeBron’s 2-4 Finals record doesn’t sound as bad when you think about the total: six Finals appearances. Not only that, but LeBron has put up some amazing numbers: in 197 Playoff games, LeBron has averaged 27.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. It doesn’t take advanced analytics to see that LeBron is one of the greatest players of all time.
And that’s exactly the point.
LeBron IS one of the greatest players of all time. Acknowledging his horrible Finals record doesn’t change that. Saying that his losing record matters doesn’t change that. But it does matter. How else do we rank players except by their performances and achievements? Would Michael Jordan be considered by most to be the greatest of all time if he didn’t win six championships? Would Tim Duncan be the undisputed greatest power forward of all time of he didn’t have five championships? Where would Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rank on your all time list if he didn’t have six championships and six MVP awards? If it matters for them, it matters for LeBron.
LeBron should not be immune to criticism. It’s ok to acknowledge his shortcomings and still recognize his greatness as a player. However, how much his greatness is recognized should be tempered by his shortcomings. That’s just how it works. I consider Jerry West to be one of the greatest players of all time. However, one of the reasons I wouldn’t put him in my top ten list is because he went 1-8 in the Finals. LeBron will finish his career as one of the greatest players of all time, but if he also finishes with a 2-5 Finals record, it will be a tough sell to put him anywhere near the top of the list.
To say that his Finals record shouldn’t matter is to say that Championships themselves don’t matter. Why do players fight so hard win? Why do they agonize over losses when they fall short? Why do they work their butt off in the summer to prepare for the next season? Why do they play?
Because it matters. Winning matters. Losing matters. Rings matter. If it didn’t matter, they wouldn’t play. LeBron’s losing Finals record matters. And that’s ok. It doesn’t make him a terrible player. It just makes him not the greatest of all time.