Lupica: The treat that is LeBron

By on June 23, 2013

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If you love sports and love greatness, how can you not feel lucky to watch LeBron James play his game the way he does? How many titles does he have to win for people to appreciate that he really is the best all-around player?

LeBron James, a basketball genius, a kid who somehow came straight to the pros from high school with not just his talent but impeccable basketball values, has now won two straight titles, been to the Finals three straight years, made it there four times by the time he is 28.

Jon Barry is an ex-NBA player, is the son of all-time great Rick Barry, is as smart a basketball analyst as ESPN has. This is what he said Friday morning about LeBron:

“He is the best pure all-around basketball player the game has ever seen.”

So why does that change if Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard makes his free throws in Game 6, or if Chris Bosh doesn’t get an offensive rebound, or if Ray Allen’s foot is on the line when he takes that shot from the corner?

How many titles does he have to win to validate that genius, or is the guy who just won again fighting a losing game against all the people still obsessed with the way he announced he was taking his talents to South Beach?

What is the arbitrary figure we attach to an athlete like this, who is not only the best player in his sport but the best teammate as well?

I’m a Michael Jordan guy, I saw Jordan from the time he made that jump shot to beat Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in 1982 and win the first of all the titles that would come later for him, in the Olympics and in the pros. After Bill Russell, the greatest winner in professional sports history, Jordan comes next for me.

But in a way, it’s as unfair to compare Michael to LeBron as it is to compare LeBron to Michael, because they don’t just have different bodies, they have different games. LeBron just has more game, he has made that official over the past two seasons — if he didn’t make it official the first time by taking that Cavaliers team of his to the Finals against the Spurs, beating the Pistons along the way — in every single big game he has played.

That starts with Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals, with the Heat going into Boston down three games to two, and LeBron not yet having won a title and looking as if he and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh might never. All he did that night was score 45 points and get 15 rebounds and play one of the best individual games in NBA playoff history.

So put that on the list of his biggest games, then Game 7 against the Celtics, Game 5 against the Thunder when he did win his first title, Game 7 against the Pacers in this year’s Eastern Conference finals, Game 6 and Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals, the most compelling we have ever had, even with blowouts. Even with all the talent in the room, it started with LeBron being the headliner.

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