In five NBA Finals games a man averaged 33 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists – and lost. For LeBron James, greatness comes even in a loss, and it continues to define him.
Sports are a meritocracy, and like much of life, history is told from the winner’s perspective. LeBron averaging a triple double for an entire NBA Finals will make for an interesting footnote, but the impact of what he actually did will get lost among the casual fans. The best hope he has is it being carried like a fable or a myth via word of mouth by the basketball junkies. Again, LeBron averaged a triple double for an entire series against the best team in the NBA this season, and did it while shooting 56 percent from the floor.
This is a 32-year-old man who has already logged an unbelievable amount of minutes. He shouldn’t be able to perform David Blaine-esque magic tricks to keep a team competitive against four All-Stars (including two MVPs) on the opposing side.
“I left everything on the floor every game, all five games” James said after Game 5. “So for me personally I have no reason to put my head down. I have no reason to look back at what I could have done or what I shouldn’t have done or what I could have done better for the team. I left everything I had out on the floor every single game for five games in this Finals, and you come up short.”
While most would agree with LeBron, his record is now 3-5 in the NBA Finals. For some people, that’s all that matters. Once the layers are peeled back, you start to see more than the “choker” narrative that’s so easy to throw into a meme. LeBron has only been favored by Vegas three times in his career (LeBron is 2-1 lifetime in those series). Of LeBron’s NBA Finals losses, he’s lost twice to the Spurs and now twice to the Warriors, both models of excellence and consistency.
In fact, James’s struggles hearken back to another player who consistently found himself overmatched in the NBA Finals: Jerry West.
West, the only player with the dubious distinction of being named the NBA Finals MVP on the losing team, went 1-8 in the Finals. West, like LeBron, went up against teams that were absolutely loaded. One of them, the Boston Celtics, defeated West a total of six times in a ten-year span in the NBA Finals. But if it wasn’t the Celtics, it’d be San Francisco Warriors and Rick Barry derailing the Lakers in the playoffs, or the Knicks, who won their two titles in the 70s over West and the Lakers.