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Should Finals Losses Hold Merit?

On Sunday night, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers won the franchise’s seventeenth championship. It was the Lakers first title since 2010 and James’ first one since 2016, when he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. This final was his tenth appearance, and his fourth Larry O’Brien Trophy. Winning four rings to go along with four Finals MVPs for James is an incredibly impressive feat by itself, not to mention doing it with three different organizations (MIA, CLE, LAL).

However, what is often held against the legacy of Lebron James is his finals record, specifically his six finals losses. It is mentioned so heavily because James is always being compared to Michael Jordan, who was 6-0 in the finals. Though, do his finals losses really hold that much merit?

Reaching the NBA Finals is an accomplishment on its own and there should be value attributed to it. The team whom the Lakers defeated was the fifth seeded Miami Heat and their season can only be categorized as a success. Obviously, they wanted to win it all, but considering what Miami was able to accomplish this season, it would be blasphemous to call their season disappointing because they lost in the finals. They were able to sweep the Indiana Pacers in the first round, knock out the number one seeded Milwaukee Bucks, and take out an extremely talented Boston Celtics team in six games.

The Heat were the lower seed in every series they played this postseason, therefore, losing as the underdog in the finals should not be something held against them. Winning your conference is not an easy task. That achievement should be praised, not looked down upon.

When examining each of James’ Finals performances, you could find excuses for why he should have more or less championships, but as of right now, he has four rings. He has lost in the Finals six separate times, but why should that be considered negative. Jordan made it to the Finals six times and won every time he made it. However, he played fifteen seasons in the NBA, meaning that in nine other seasons, Jordan either missed the playoffs or got knocked out before even reaching the Finals.

Would people perceive James different if he was 4-0 in the Finals compared to 4-6 in the Finals? Statistically, James would have a higher winning percentage in the Finals if he made it less, but he would have six less Finals appearances to his ledger. Using Finals losses to diminish the legacy of James is absurd as that is essentially defending early round exits.

Unlike in 2007, LeBron James, this time with Miami Heat, will beat San  Antonio Spurs - New York Daily News
Tony Dejak/AP

Players like Paul George, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony are all players who have yet to reach the Finals during their fairly long tenures in the NBA. Had any of them been able to make the quantum leap and win a conference, then how that players’ career is viewed would change drastically.

Jimmy Butler’s historic performance this postseason will never be forgotten, and it has definitely bumped him up the tier list in terms of top players in the league. Butler will be remembered more for what he did to lead the Heat to the Finals this season, then the loss to the Lakers.

When taking a look at an entire career, a Finals appearance is usually not enough, if the player does not win at least once. That is what holds greats like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Karl Malone from being talked about in the same class as champions like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, or Jordan. However, once a player has the hardware of a championship, then other Finals appearances should only pad the resume.

One of the most impressive statistics that James has been able to accomplish over his illustrious seventeen-year NBA career is making it to eight consecutive NBA Finals. That is unheard of in the modern era, even for Jordan. James played some tough, grueling series through the years, but from 2011-2018, he bulldozed through the Eastern Conference year in and year out.

This streak could have continued too, had James not suffered the first significant injury of his career during his first season in Los Angeles. And him returning healthy the following season to win the chip, making it nine finals in ten seasons, only further emphasizes his value.

On the flip side of the equation, people could say that he has six Finals losses because he does not know how to close. The greatest example of this was in 2011, when the Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in a shocking upset. However, with many of the other times James made it the Finals, it was abundantly clear that his team did not belong there.

For instance, in 2007, James brought a Cleveland team to the Finals that had a starting lineup consisting of Sasha Pavlović, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Larry Hughes. None of those players had a career PPG average above fifteen points and only Ilgauskas had been named an All-Star in the past. The amount of help James received during his first run in Cleveland was abysmal and the fact that he brought that roster to the Finals is nothing short of a miracle. The insane fact is that this is not the only poor team he has brought to the Finals.

NBA Finals: Cavaliers disagree on J.R. Smith's late blunder
Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

The LeBron James effect is a real thing as it shows itself in full display every time he leaves an organization. After James left the Cavaliers in 2010, they dropped from the one seed the year prior to last in the conference in 2011. Miami became instant contenders, albeit expected, after not being relevant since their 2006 title run. Then, James leaves the well-run Heat organization in 2014 and they miss the postseason the next year, while he brings a Cleveland team that missed the playoffs the year prior to the finals.

In 2018, after Kyrie Irving demanded a trade and was dealt to Boston, James still willed Cleveland to the Finals with a depleted roster. They had no shot against the powerhouse that was the Golden State Warriors, but they still made it despite all the adversity the team faced. He leaves Cleveland for Los Angeles, and the next season Cleveland goes back to being a lottery team.

The Lakers had not made the postseason since 2013 and once LeBron arrived and played a full season, he brought them to the Finals. Los Angeles had a mess of a roster that would have had a better chance at obtaining a lottery pick then a playoff spot before James entered the picture and now they are world champions.

LeBron James has made some very bad rosters look representable. Teams that should not be close to even sniffing the postseason end up in the Finals because of James. The matchups may be dreadful for James’ team, but he is able to provide them that opportunity. James almost always finds a way to will his team to the final challenge. He is the most valuable player in the NBA by a landslide and James’ determination to get his team as far into the postseason as possible should not be a detriment to his legacy. Winning a championship is every team’s goal, but few are actually capable each year.

LeBron James is the best player in the world, but he does not always have the best team. His ability to push the roster he has to the brink is truly amazing. James breezes through the first, second, and third rounds as the only true competition is the Finals opponent. No one can win every year, no matter how great a player is, but James comes the closest and that should be penalized. Rings are important, finals losses are meaningless.

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