By Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley, AFRO Sports Desk
Down 0-1 in a best-of-seven series against the Golden State Warriors, the Cleveland Cavaliers shouldn’t be worried–not with the best player in the league on their team. LeBron James has been down against the Warriors before and survived, but can he do it again? Eking out a 4-3 series win over Golden State in 2015 despite being down 3-1 earned James a lot of kudos around the Association at the time. Now, with three championship rings already in hand, could beating Golden State again earn James the label of greatest player of all time (G.O.A.T)? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, May 31, 2018. The Warriors won 124-114 in overtime. (Ezra Shaw/Pool Photo via AP)
Riley: I was tempted to say it after 2015 but I won’t be so hesitant this time around to tout James as the best player of all time if he pulls this one off again. The Warriors are stronger than they were two seasons ago. The Cleveland Cavaliers are weaker than they were two seasons ago. And, LeBron is probably better than he was two seasons ago. There are players with more rings and more individual awards but for what LeBron has done for the league from a branding perspective and his influence over the younger players in the Association, defeating the Warriors would have to clinch him the formal G.O.A.T. title. Michael Jordan was the end-all, be-all in basketball for decades but I can see LeBron grabbing that crown. If he beats this high-powered Warriors team then it’s case closed.
Green: Call me old school because I’m still grading players off championship performances. And it’s not just about winning titles but how you individually performed while winning said titles. Jordan is a long ways away from being moved aside by James, and it is steep odds betting on Cleveland to win this series, anyway. It would be great to see James ride off into the summer having pulled a David and Goliath over the Bay but it’s probably not going to happen. And, even if it does, he’ll still have one ring fewer than Kobe, two rings fewer than Jordan and seven fewer than Bill Russell. Let’s hold off on the pronouncements.
Riley: The title count theory has been losing its steam for years. The league is a lot stronger than it was in the 1990s and ‘50s and ‘60s when Russell played. No modern player would ever earn 11 rings in the era of free agency. And, if we’re talking about dominating the game the way Jordan did then we’re talking about LeBron. Kobe fans will always shove Bryant out there as part of the G.O.A.T. discussion but, in my opinion, it comes down to total impact on the game of basketball from marketing, branding and winning. And, only Jordan and James belong in that discussion with Jordan having the slight edge because the title count difference is too wide. If LeBron can shrink that edge then he’s earned the right to have his name placed ahead of Jordan even if he can’t match him in ring count.
Green: No matter what LeBron does, he can’t erase 2011 from his resume. He put on the worst superstar performance in NBA finals history that year, resulting in his team being upset by the lesser talented Dallas Mavs. There’s no such blemish on MJ’s resume; even when MJ’s team experienced a loss, he always out-performed everyone on the court. The same can’t be said about ‘Bron, so he’ll never be G.O.A.T. in my eyes.