No matter how much I try to like LeBron James, he just doesn’t make it easy. Now he claims he never played on a super-team despite having a televised infomercial on ESPN to announce it. And when that situation was starting to go downhill, he went back to Cleveland to play the hero—when in reality he was forming another super-team. So goes the legend of LeBron James—revered or reviled—because there is no in between.
After another defeat in the Finals, if you check out the stories written, LeBron is blameless for the Cleveland Cavaliers failure. Hell, he’ll tell you the same thing. And he did in the postgame. I wonder if LeBron the GM takes any blame, because this is the roster he wanted—including forcing the team to trade the first pick for Kevin Love when he came back to ‘The Land.’ If it’s not good enough, maybe it’s because he’s not good enough. And it’s about time someone says it.
If you read his personal promoter, Brian Windhorst, he’s already made excuses for James while diminishing Michael Jordan’s accomplishments. There are endless stories on the internet saying his legacy is still intact. It’s nice that so many in sports media are acting as psychologists so LeBron’s fragile ego isn’t shaken with another loss under his belt.
While his coronation as the GOAT is now on hiatus, he is still universally recognized as Top 5, not to mention the best small forward of all time. I wonder if they are forgetting a certain someone who used to play for the Boston Celtics. Has anyone ever heard of Larry Bird, or is he long forgotten because he played when many of today’s fans and bloggers were in diapers?
I have watched both play—unlike many who speak like experts on the subject. For example, Windhorst was born in 1978—the year before Bird’s first in the league. He was more likely drooling than dribbling when Bird was at his best.
The game was different then. The NBA had centers named Moses and Jabbar, with Hakeem and Ewing coming in the mid-80s. Hall of Fame centers that made you pay if you drove the lane. And they played relatively clean. What would a Bill Laimbeer do if you attacked the basket? Ask Michael Jordan. He knows. So does Bird, who once got in a scrum with Laimbeer after he got attacked going to the hole.
In today’s game, they lay out the red carpet when LeBron drives the lane. When Bird and Jordan played, they laid them out. If you don’t believe me, check out the current 30 for 30 on ESPN featuring the Los Angeles Lakers—Boston Celtics rivalry. It wasn’t the polite game it is today where a foul is called for a cross look.
It’s the same look LeBron gives the refs when he doesn’t get a touch foul call. Can you imagine his reaction if he met the Bad Boys driving the lane back in the day?
They had the hand-check rule when Bird played. Now it’s hands-off and that’s why scoring is exploding. As Ric Bucher said on Mad Dog Sports on Sirius radio this past Tuesday, “All the numbers are inflated in this day and age.”
My interpretation of what he said is that it’s easier to score in today’s NBA. Which means, the numbers are skewed in favor of the current stars compared to players from the past. When you look at how the game has changed, wouldn’t you say the previous generation had it far more difficult than today’s players? The argument is always the players now are bigger, faster, and stronger. But how true is that? You could easily argue the players from the past were much tougher than those playing now.
That’s my biggest issue with the game today. It’s far too easy to get to the basket. Players seem afraid to play aggressive defensive for fear of a flagrant foul. In Game 4 when Cleveland scored 86 points in the first half, I couldn’t believe how many players went untouched to the basket. As a basketball fan, I was insulted by the lack of defensive effort in a championship series game. I thought I was watching the NBA All-Star Game.
My problem with LeBron is about how he’s evaluated. I just don’t think he’s as good as every media type makes him out to be. He reminds me of Shaquille O’Neal—players bigger and stronger than their contemporaries who utilize the rules allotted to them to excel. The NBA let Shaq back down his opponents when he posted up instead of calling an offensive foul. With LeBron, he can run over the defender, along with using his left arm to clear room for his drives to the basket. Most players just let him go knowing that at best, they will be called for a foul. And at worst, they will be run over—still getting a foul called on them instead of picking up a charge.
Even with the league in his pocket, he’s still afraid to take the late shot in a must-win game for his team. Instead of getting criticized for passing to Kyle Korver rather than driving on a foul-plagued Draymond Green in Game 3, he gets fawned over for making the right basketball play. Sometimes the right basketball play is taking the shot to determine if his team is going to win or lose.
LeBron seems reluctant to put that burden on his shoulders. Perhaps it’s because he’s not very good when contested at the basket. He’s spectacular when he puts down the dunk with nobody there, but not quite so good when he has someone near his size defending him. If you watch him on a consistent basis, you can see what I am talking about. His own teammate, Kyrie Irving, is much better at attacking the basket at half his size.
When I watched Bird, I saw a cutthroat player who would do whatever he could to win. He had an air of confidence about himself demonstrated by saying, “Who’s going to finish second?” when joining the other contestants for the three-point shooting contest. He wasn’t afraid to take a shot with the game on the line. And who would you rather take the last shot—Bird or LeBron? That wasn’t a question.
With LeBron, I see a player who is always searching for the best situation for his legacy. To me, a leader stays the course and overcomes adversity to win. LeBron seeks the easiest path to victory.
Breaking down his game, he’s more of an athlete than a great basketball player. When’s the last time he made a move you have never seen before? He never has, because he does the same thing every time. His moves are robotic. A friend made that comment last week talking about Jordan—saying you couldn’t take your eyes off of him because you never knew what he might do.
He’s a good, not great passer. He’s not a good outside shooter. His shot seems better and softer this year than in the past, but it’s not textbook by any means. His ball-handling is nothing special. And for his size, he’s a terrible rebounder. He averaged 8.6 per game this year—the highest of his career. It’s only the second time he even managed to grab eight rebounds per game in his career. Bird had a career average of 10 per game, and that was after breaking down the last few years due to injuries lowering his numbers. LeBron should average 10 boards per contest in his sleep.
If you look at his numbers compared to Bird, they are very comparable. Except for the fact that Bird played in a much more physical era. Bird was not the primary ball-handler like LeBron is for Cleveland. And yet, he still averaged almost as many assists per game. Watch highlights of him and tell me who the better passer is. LeBron only leads him in points scored, but that’s because players shoot more three-pointers today. He also went to the foul line three more times per game than Bird.
It gets tiresome hearing the praise that’s heaped on LeBron. Maybe I’m not watching the same game as everyone else, but I don’t just look at the numbers. But if you would like to look at the numbers, here they are. In LeBron’s case, I would argue he’s not as good as the numbers he’s putting up:
He’s always talked about as such a great defensive player, but Kevin Durant had his way with him in the NBA Finals. On LeBron’s defense in the Finals, Bucher said “This was the worst defense I have ever seen LeBron play.”
I know that if I had a choice between Bird and LeBron, it would be an easy decision. As for MJ? Don’t even go there.