In February, I questioned whether LeBron James could fulfill the hype that accompanied him out of high school to become the “King” of the NBA. In the 2017 NBA Finals, perhaps more than ever in his storied career, James played like a King. With 33.6 points per game, 12 rebounds per game, and 10 assists per game, James became the first player in NBA history to average a triple double in the Finals. He left it all out on the court;: in the five games, James played between 39 and 46 minutes per game each night. With a Game 5 tally of 41 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists, James was not the reason the Cleveland Cavaliers came up short against the Golden State Warriors, by a margin of four games to one. Indeed, James had to go up against perhaps the greatest assemblage of talent ever on an NBA floor. This rationale aside, however, LeBron is further away than he was four months ago from getting to the status of greatest of all time, and it’s far from certain that he’ll even win another NBA title.
With his loss this year, James not only dropped to 3-5 all-time in Finals series, but to a surprisingly poor 18-27 (40% win rate) in Finals games, among them 4-0, 4-1, and 4-1 embarrassments. His win percentage removes him from the class of all-timers Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal (who won four of his six NBA Finals appearances), Kobe Bryant (who went five for seven in the Finals), and Tim Duncan (five of six). With his loss this year, James falls closer to the category of memorable NBA “losers” like 1960s-era Lakers greats Jerry West (who won in 1972, but fell in the Finals of 1962-63, 1965-66, 1968-70, and 1973), Wilt Chamberlain (who won in 1967 and 1972, but lost in 1964, 1969-70, and 1973), and Elgin Baylor (who lost in all eight of his Finals tries). True, James has more overall championships as a player than any of them did, but he’s also come up short far too often to be in the GOAT conversation.