LeBron James is one of the most polarizing players in NBA history, a label he probably earned in the summer of 2010 with the airing of the now-infamous Decision. James made a big production out of his free agency decision, announcing live on ESPN that he’d be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to form a super team in Miami with the Heat. James won a couple of titles in Miami, returned to the Cavaliers, slayed the almighty Golden State Warriors, and finally delivered a major championship to the city of Cleveland.
But he’s not done yet.
I think that’s a big reason why we’re so fascinated with LeBron James. He’s likely a Top 5 player of all-time with his current slate of accomplishments, but he’s still building. He’s the only active NBA player who can make that claim. How far up the all-time rankings can he climb? How close to Michael Jordan will he get? We don’t know, but the fact that it’s a conversation we can have is telling. He’s within striking distance.
We’ve had some fun with NBA 2K17 simulations this season. Our simulation of the 2016-17 season is a personal favorite of mine because of how chaotic the results were. We even looked at what kind of careers NBA 2K17 is predicting for the 2016 NBA Draft class in a sim that took us to 2030.
This time, it’s all about LeBron James. How close to Jordan does he get? What will his resume look like when he finally retires? When does he retire? Does he leave Cleveland again? Does he ever team up with the Banana Boat crew?
These are questions I can’t answer, but NBA 2K17 can try. As always, don’t shoot the messenger.
NBA 2K17 is predicting an excellent regular season for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. A first seed in the Eastern Conference to go with a somewhat unexpected Defensive Player of the Year nod for James, along with a very predictable All-NBA 1st Team and All-Defense 1st Team honors. LeBron is good in real life. LeBron is good in fake life. Shocker.
Unfortunately for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, their postseason wasn’t as fruitful as the regular season. They would go on to sweep the Celtics in Round 1 and the Hawks in Round 2. They gave up one game to Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals, but in actuality, the Cavs cruised to the NBA Finals where they lost to he Oklahoma City Thunder in seven games. I am both bummed out by the unlikelihood of this happening, and also giddy over the idea. How amazing would that be? At any rate, no closer to Michael Jordan’s total titles for LeBron James in 2016-17.
The 2017-18 regular season was another career-defining year for LeBron James. Another Cavaliers Eastern Conference one-seed, another All-NBA 1st Team honor, another All-NBA Defense 1st Team honor, but this time he added another regular season MVP award to his legacy.
In true Bizarro World NBA 2K17 fashion, the six-seed Sixers upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2017-18 playoffs, eliminating them in the Eastern Conference Finals. Another squandered opportunity.
Ho-hum, 2018-19 featured another MVP award for LeBron James. Of course he made every All-NBA team he qualified for, but as the LeBron James narrative goes, what do all of these regular season accolades mean if he can’t get it done in the playoffs? I think James obliterated that narrative when he brought the Cavaliers back from being down 3-1 in the 2016 NBA Finals to defeat the Warriors. But a certain segment of LeBron James haters will always judge him on the postseason, and despite his prior accomplishments, if he ends his career with a series of postseason disappointments, that NBA regular season hero, postseason dud narrative won’t go away.
So, how did the 2018-19 playoffs go for LeBron James? Not great.
The Detroit Pistons knock them out in the first round. Ouch.
I’m going start glossing over some of this regular season minutia, because let’s be real: this is about the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. I’ll still pass along his regular season accomplishments, but does LeBron James win any more NBA titles? That’s what this is all about. At 35, he’s certainly getting up there in age, and it’s starting to feel like now or never. He does land another MVP award in 2019-2020. That’s back-to-back-to-back MVP awards, for those keeping track at home.
That pesky postseason, though. Another one-seed in the Eastern Conference was rewarded with a second round playoff exit courtesy of the Charlotte Hornets. This is getting awkward. I feel awkward. I am also now fully rooting for virtual LeBron James. Damn you, NBA 2K17. Let us have one more moment before LeBron rides off into the sunset. We need this.
ALL-NBA 1st Team and All-Defense 1st Team at age 36 is nothing to sneeze at, but rings. How many rings?
Yikes. The Cavaliers are going in the wrong direction. A four-seed in the Eastern Conference and a first round exit. It feels like we’re nearing the end here.
This is the end. LeBron James’ final season the NBA. The virtual 2021-2022 Cavaliers signed a now-fully-developed Buddy Hield and Julius Randle in the offseason to make one more run with the LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving core. Yeah, according to NBA 2K17, Cleveland’s current Big Three stayed together until the bitter end. All-NBA 1st Team in your final NBA season is pretty damn impressive.
I wish I could give you one more triumphant LeBron James victory, but it just doesn’t happen. The Cavaliers earned the five-seed in the Eastern Conference, defeated the Celtics in Round 1, but fell to the Nets in Round 2, and that’s it. No more LeBron James. No more Michael Jordan comparisons. No more rings. Nothing.
I can’t say NBA 2K17’s career trajectory for LeBron James is all that far-fetched. James is probably the best active player in the NBA right now, but his prime is coming to an end. I would’ve predicted that the Golden State Warriors would be the team to slam the door shut on his legacy instead of the lunacy NBA 2K17 is predicting above, but the result could remain the same — LeBron James is going to have a hard time finding another NBA Championship. It’s not impossible, it’s not even unlikely, it’s just going to be extremely difficult considering his competition, and I wouldn’t argue against the possibility that he never wins again. That is absolutely in play.
LeBron does end his NBA career as the all-time leading scorer in NBA history. A nice feather to add to his cap, certainly, but without another NBA title to his name, it’s hard to imagine him challenging Michael Jordan as the greatest of all-time, and considering that he’s already admitted to chasing Jordan’s ghost, I’m sure that would be a tough pill to swallow.