CLEVELAND—Unpopular sports opinion Number One: Lebron James is basketball history’s greatest.
In all likelihood, he will never win six championships like his childhood hero. Heck, he may never reach five like his closest modern rival.
But Jordan couldn’t do it without Pippen. And Kobe couldn’t do it without Shaq, and later Gasol and Bynum.
Three games through an NBA Finals many thought wouldn’t go beyond five games, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, absent two bonafide stars and prolific scorers, are making a historic team look average.
The numbers have been ridiculous. Through three games, James has scored 123 points, the highest total for any player in NBA Finals history. To top it off, by series’ end, James has a legitimate chance to lead both teams in points, rebounds, and assists, a statistical testament to just how much he has lifted his injury-decimated supporting cast.
“I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to help our team win,” James said. “It’s the Finals, and it’s whatever it takes. This is a totally different challenge.”
But beyond the numbers lie the true greatness in James’ NBA Finals heroics.
The King, who’s jersey was once burned in the streets of Cleveland, has injected a ferocious energy into a team and a city starved of championship pedigree.
Every time Matthew Dellavedova dives for a loose ball, or Tristan Thompson comes flying into the paint to grab an offensive rebound, a la Dennis Rodman, it’s almost as if for a second, they too believe they are the best on the planet, that they simply won’t be denied that championship pedigree.
James has grown into a leader the likes of which Bryant and Jordan never were. He’s turned the red-headed stepchild of pro basketball into NBA royalty. He’s made his boys believe.
But of course, the series is still far, far from over. On the other sideline lies the Splash Brothers, led by the baby-faced assassin, the league MVP.
Though last night’s Game 3 loss was a true gut punch to Golden State’s title hopes, a readily available silver lining exists in the team’s frenetic fourth quarter comeback, a scoring spurt that has become a staple of Warriors playoff basketball.
“I think I found something when it comes to how I’m going to be able to attack their pick-and-rolls,” guard Stephen Curry said. “I’ll keep that in the memory bank going into Game 4.”
Following an opening trio of nail biters, it will be hard for Game 4 to live up to the expectations set by its predecessors.
Some are calling Thursday night’s game a must-win for Golden State.
And while this is certainly true, this is the NBA Finals. Every game is a must win.
Cleveland is just two must wins away from its first title. If James and company are to continue playing David in this riveting sports narrative, they are going to need their superhuman star to continue being exactly that.
“I’m so outside the box right now,” James said.
In these Finals, “the box” is everything we’ve come to know and understand about basketball greatness.