It’s time to recognize greatness

Ryan Stieg

LeBron James is the best basketball player ever and it’s time we realized it.

There has been a debate over who deserves this honor for years and it seems like everyone around the sport has an opinion on it, whether it be analysts, fans or even former players.

People just slightly older in my generation insist that the best is Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, while some Generation Xers embrace Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird.

Some Baby Boomers even go back as far as Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

Each can make a decent case for their chosen athlete, but after these last couple of seasons, there really isn’t a debate anymore. James has been just been incredible and seems to be getting better each year.

The King averaged a triple-double in the just-completed NBA Finals, something never been done before.

He has also set the record with nine during his career in the finals, and almost overshadowed Kevin Durant, the MVP of the finals. Think about that. His team lost in five games and he still could have won MVP.

There have been many LeBron haters during his career. He was anointed the next Jordan during his high school years, which is an insane amount of pressure to put on a teenager, especially since Jordan didn’t truly make a household name for himself until he got to the NBA.

LeBron was then expected to lead his hometown Cavaliers (technically, he’s from Akron, but close enough) to the finals in a matter of a few years and end Cleveland’s pain and suffering for all of its lack of success in professional sports.

With more pressure on his shoulders, he almost did it back in 2007 until the Cavs ran into the San Antonio Spurs dynasty.

From that point on, though, people criticized him for not getting the job done in the playoffs, which was ridiculous since he didn’t have much of a supporting cast.

Jordan had Scottie Pippen, Abdul-Jabbar had Magic, Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, and Bryant had Shaquille O’Neal. In 2008, James had Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Yeah, I think I made my point there.

Wanting to finally win a title, James decided to take his talents to South Beach. Unfortunately for him, he decided to do it in one of the worst ways possible and announced it live on ESPN, which built it up as “The Decision.”

I blame the cable sports network more than I do James for this idiocy. As a result of doing it in this fashion, Cleveland and a good chunk of this country unleashed their hate on him throughout his time in Miami.

I admit that he went about it the wrong way, but I don’t blame him. What was he supposed to do? Continue to work for a franchise that wasn’t doing much to help him? Would any of us have done that?

No. We’d find a better job as would anybody who had common sense or any form of self-respect.

After getting two titles out of his system, James decided to do the right thing — in some people’s minds — and returned to Cleveland.

Not only was this a smart for his public relations, but I think that’s what he wanted to do all along. His first year on the job in 2015, he brought the Cavs to the finals, and last year he achieved the goal that was placed on him as a 19-year-old.

James led an epic comeback from a 3-games-to-1 deficit and made one of the most iconic plays in NBA history with his sprint down the court and block with less than two minutes left. It’s been a year since that happened and I still can’t believe he pulled that off.

Yet after two titles in Miami, multiple MVP awards and ending Cleveland’s famous title drought, James is still hated by some people who disregard his accomplishments. What more do they want?

The guy even is willing to use his role as the league’s most famous player to discuss societal issues, which is something a lot of athletes have shied away from. He sees his popularity as a way to make changes and that’s something that he should be admired for, not despised.

James has been compared to a lot of the athletes also listed here, but they all had their flaws.

Not only did the other players have teammates to help them, some had famous coaches to assist them. Russell had Red Auerbach, Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar had Pat Riley, and Jordan and Bryant both had Phil Jackson at some point.

James had Eric Spoelstra in Miami and David Blatt and now Tyronn Lue in Cleveland. I don’t think any of these guys will be making the Hall of Fame.

They also played in different eras that helped their different abilities. Russell and Chamberlain played during a time where being insanely tall was not only a perk, but almost essential, while Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson and Bird played on teams where you fit in a certain role.

James, on the other hand, has to be able to do it all. He has to dunk for highlights and good marketing, he has to knock down treys with ease, drive the lane effectively, play aggressive defense and be the go-to guy on every pressure-filled situation. Those aren’t easy tasks, but he can do it with ease.

The bottom line is that James has proven himself every single season that he is the star player that he was expected to be, and to me, he has gone beyond that.

There has been a lot of talented players over the years that have captured people’s minds and entrenched themselves in history. However, James could beat them all in their prime.

He will probably be surpassed by some other superstar in the future like all of the others, but for now, he’s the best and we all need to finally admit it, even if we don’t want to.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.