The Golden State Warriors did not blow a 3-1 lead in 2017 as they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games in the 2017 NBA Finals, but LeBron James’ legacy was cemented even before the 2016-17 season tipped off last October. After the Cavs brought Cleveland its first major sports championship in 52 years, the Warriors knew they had to do something to take down the defending champions. They were so desperate that ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported that Warriors’ do-it-all forward Draymond Green called free agent Kevin Durant sitting in the Oracle Arena parking lot, crying after losing Game 7. He felt the Warriors needed the second-best player in the world to added to a 73-win team to defeat James.
In 2015, a Cavs team that was without both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving due to injuries took the Warriors to six games before losing. James, as he did in 2007, carried the wine and gold by himself. Then, in 2016, with the team at 100 percent, James and company were able to bounce back from a 3-1 series deficit and beat the Warriors in three straight games to complete the promise James had made to the region. The Cavs proved that when they were healthy, they were the better team.
Cleveland may have lost Cavs-Warriors III, but it’s not because they weren’t good. Golden State was just the better team. In fact, the 2016-17 Warriors could arguably go down as the best team in NBA history. James’ squad losing shouldn’t affect his legacy. He is now 3-5 in Finals appearances, but in six of those, he was the underdog. When he was the favorite, he’s 1-1, the underdog? 2-4.
No. 23 was the first player in Finals history to average a triple-double. In five games, he averaged 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 1.4 steals, and one block while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor and 38.7 percent from long distance in 42.4 minutes per game. In a Finals match up that might have featured seven future Hall of Famers, James was the first player to lead both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in a playoff series of any length. That’s insane. He may be 32 years old and have a ton of miles on his body, but outside of garbage time in Games 1 and 2, James rarely sat the bench. Instead, he was busy being the team’s leading scorer, rebounder, and assist man.
What James did in the Finals was icing on the cake, but his legacy was cemented on July 7, 2016, when the Warriors felt that they had to sign the second-best basketball player in the world in order to beat James and the Cavaliers. The best player in the world has made eight Finals appearance (seven consecutive), has won three championships, and has taken home four MVPs.
Michael Jordan has six rings, but he never went up against a dynasty like the present-day Golden State Warriors. Jordan may still be the best of all time, but none of his opponents ever won 73 regular season games and then added the second-best player in the league. If greatness was only defined by rings, then James Jones and James are on the same pedestal because Jones also has three rings- all of which were won with the King as a teammate. Rings do matter, but the Warriors knowing that they had to add a talent like Durant to take down No. 23 says it all.
Although this offseason will be filled with the Cavs figuring out ways to take down the Warriors next summer, James’ legacy will forever be defined by Golden State signing Durant, even if No. 23 doesn’t win another ring. But, none of us should underestimate his ability to do it.