I am not a Lebron James fan. Since the moment he entered the league I never cared much for the way he carried himself or the sense of accomplishment he seemed to harbor before he’d even brought his team to the playoffs. I hated how he turned decades of competitive spirit on its head by heading to Miami, and I hated how contrived his return to Cleveland felt. But after all of that – all the self-aggrandizing nonsense, the narratives, and the social media BS – I cannot sit here and tell you he is not the best basketball player on the planet, the best player of his generation, and probably one of the best three or four players to ever put on an NBA jersey. He is basketball greatness personified, and it’s time I got around to accepting that.
For the last 13 years I have found ways to dislike Lebron as a basketball player: his offensive game isn’t as diverse as Carmelo’s, for how athletic he is he shouldn’t settle for jump shots, I wish he would take over a game and not pass out of the biggest moments, I wish he didn’t flop so much, he travels every other time he touches the ball. While all of these criticisms are or have been correct at one time or another, they ignore the best parts of Lebron James that make him the most complete basketball player we have seen in the NBA since Magic Johnson.
Lebron James is simultaneously the best transition playmaker and half-court creator in the NBA. He can guard five positions. He has resurrected the careers of countless NBA veterans because his all-encompassing greatness limits their roles to only the things they are good at. Lebron James, more than any basketball player I have ever seen, raises the level of his teammates to where he needs them to be and empowers them to make plays they otherwise wouldn’t have the confidence or opportunity to make.
We saw all of what makes Lebron James so special in Game 7. He scored all the points he needed to score, he grabbed all the rebounds that came his way, he set his teammates up for easy baskets, and he made perhaps the play of the series when he pinned Andre Igoudala’s shot against the backboard in the closing minutes of the game. J.R. Smith scored 12 points, including two massive threes. Kevin Love rebounded (literally) from a terrible series to be a net positive and make the biggest defensive stand of the series on Stephen Curry. Kyrie Irving was empowered to do the things that he does best, and the possession where he hit the biggest shot of his life encapsulated that.
One of my favorite lines from “Our Deepest Fear” is “…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Lebron James is the walking, basketball-playing embodiment of this – his greatness allows others to be the best basketball players they can be.
That is the measure of greatness. That is the measure of a champion.
Congratulations, Lebron James. I hope you never win another one.