Keidel: LeBron Wills Cleveland To NBA Finals In Spite Of Supporting Cast

Equivalent To A Five-Tool Player In Baseball

Jason Keidel
May 28, 2018 - 11:06 am

You won't find those historically holy trinities - or even dominant duets - of basketball talent. You see LeBron James soaring above his peers and opponents, with his latest feat, taking a team to the NBA Finals for an eighth consecutive time, the most glowing jewel on the King's crown. 

It's long known that stars shoulder a larger load than lesser players. It's why they get the big stats, epic contracts, and leave Yeti-sized social media footprints. But even with the heavy burdens we place on modern stars, no athlete in any pro team sport is forced to carry the truckload that LeBron lugs across 94 feet of hardwood every night. Bird had McHale and Parrish. Magic had Kareem and Worthy. Michael had Scottie and Rodman (or Grant). 

LeBron has, well, um, Knicks retread JR Smith. If you wanna give Kevin Love some love as a (former) All-Star - when he actually plays, of course - you're still left with a hardwood graveyard LeBron must navigate to schlep this woeful squad deep into June. Especially this season, which is arguably the worst gaggle of vets and vagabonds sharing his team colors. He always leads the team in every salient stat, and there as even a game in this series when he outscored all other four starters combined. While the 2007 club he rolled up the playoff mountain was equally void of talent, they at least played sublime defense. 

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But this team, and its myriad mutations over the last eight months - starting with the Kyrie Irving trade and subsequent bloodletting of players and emotions and losses - has folks thumbing through the archives to see if any NBA club so bereft of ability has reached an NBA Finals. As Stephen A Smith said, this is a lottery team sans No. 23. They don't even have the best Larry Nance on their roster.

The Celtics, which had rolled the Cavs in three games in Boston, was 9-0 at home in the playoffs. They were ahead for most of Game 7 Sunday night. Jayson Tatum was turning Game 7 into his breakout party, and even posterized LeBron with a thunderous dunk. A chest-out Tatum then bumped LeBron and whispered a little smack talk into his ear. Even at the time, you knew that was a mistake, tugging on the King's cape. 

Like everything with LeBron, the stats don't tell the entire tale. His 35 points and 15 boards and nine dimes are self-evident. But it's how and when and why he does things that makes last night's LeBron maybe the best LeBron we've ever seen. Since he's so physically powerful and imposing, we tend to forget that his most powerful organ rests between his ears. 

If we call the best baseball star a five-tool player, what do we call LeBron? There isn't a shot or pass he can't make, a shot he can't block, or a game he can't dominate.  Even if you think the Western Conference Finals to be the de facto NBA Finals, and that LeBron beat Boston just so he can be shredded by the buzz saw of Golden State or Houston, you're missing the entire point. No player in NBA history has done more, with less, than LeBron James has in the 2018 playoffs. 

Jeff Van Gundy - hardly given to butt-smooching hyperbole - declared that this was King James's crowning achievement. TV broadcast comrade, Mark Jackson, concurred with Van Gundy. You can call that sacrilege in this world of zero-sum accounting, where rings are the only things of importance. But this team, sans LeBron, stinks. If the NBA Finals were a nightclub, only LeBron would get by the bouncer. 

And consider that despite his Herculean efforts, otherworldly results, and escalating place among the immortals, LeBron finished fourth last year in the NBA MVP voting. Out of 101 first-place votes, LeBron got one. That's not a typo. One vote for NBA MVP.

If folks are suffering LeBron fatigue, then you've got a problem, because King James is not only the best player on the planet, he may be getting better. It's just hard, if not impossible, for those of us who love greatness and genius, to be tired of seeing it when there's so little of it everywhere else. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel