NBA Finals Warriors Cavaliers Basketball

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, left, during the second half of Game 4 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Cleveland, Friday, June 10, 2016. Golden State won 108-97. (Ronald Martinez/Pool Photo via AP)

The Golden State Warriors have the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 3-1 hole in their NBA Finals matchup, with Game 5 scheduled for June 13 in Oakland, Ca. While the Warriors haven’t been spectacular against the Cavs, they’ve nevertheless been solid enough to stymie Cleveland.

LeBron James and the Cavaliers sought this matchup with Golden State after falling short against them last year, when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love missed most of the series. Irving played 40-plus minutes in the Finals opener last season before he broke his kneecap and was done for the series; Love missed the series entirely.

This year’s rematch was supposed to vindicate James and return him to championship status, but things don’t appear headed that way. James’ return to Cleveland last summer led to two consecutive Finals appearances, and this year’s series against Golden State marks his seventh career Finals appearance. But his 2-4 record in those appearances so far is less than ideal, and it seems that James’ championship record is on the verge of taking another blemish. Could a Cavs loss damage his legacy? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.

Riley: A 2-5 record in the Finals will haunt James all summer, but the effect on his career may be worse. James has been a model citizen as a professional basketball player. He’s never been in trouble and has been a class act since entering the NBA, but you can’t be the face of the league if you’re not a consistent winner. The media has helped James become a global icon, perhaps even bigger than the NBA itself. But the prospect once deemed “The Chosen One” hasn’t held up his end of the bargain. The two championships he won in Miami alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are diminished, because we haven’t seen him win without those two teammates. It’s not solely James’ fault that he’s been hyped to unattainable levels, but he certainly hasn’t done anything to defuse the hype. There have been commercials, self-proclamations and “decisions” mixed with questions about his toughness, and more shortcomings than big wins. If it wasn’t well known than James has a losing record in the Finals, that message will definitely be on full blast this summer if the Cavaliers loss again this time.

Green: For once, I wholeheartedly agree with you, Riley. This Finals series is over and it’s time we officially strip from James his title as ambassador of the NBA. He’s no longer the “best basketball player on the planet.” That title belongs to Steph Curry now. Curry will soon be the two-time reigning MVP and 2-0 in his own Finals appearances with both titles earned against the so called “King.” And while Curry has had the help of a tremendously in-sync team, he had no help from fellow superstars to do it. Curry is coming closer to the greatness we saw in Michael Jordan than LeBron ever has. Losing his third straight Finals will prove that James was never as great as his fans have always tried to make him out to be. He’s always been a great player, but the truth is finally clear: he will never be considered the greatest of all time.

Riley: I’m okay with your synopsis of LeBron. He doesn’t rank higher than legends like Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan, let alone MJ. Bryant and Duncan dominated competition and each possess five rings. We never questioned their will to win, and they never jumped ship to another team. James has certainly given us reason to question his career. The accolades are plentiful and his two championships with Miami have staved off even harsher assessments, but critics are still waiting for him to deliver a title to Cleveland. Winning just one title for his home-state would go a long way to cementing his legacy. Until that happens, there’s definitely going to be an asterisk on James’ career.

Green: I’ve always said that if James had decided to go to the New York Knicks in 2010 (as some rumors once indicated), instead of conspiring to join Wade and Bosh in Miami, his legacy would have been greater. Bringing one title to the Knicks, who haven’t won a championship since 1973, would have been the equivalent of six rings anywhere else. Instead, he took his talents to South Beach and promised eight championships to Heat fans before opting out of his contract after just four years. He didn’t even try to keep his word—he simply gave up after a Finals loss in 2014 to go team up with two younger stars in Cleveland. Even with that younger, fresher help in Cleveland, he’s still on the verge of two straight championship failures. All of this will be taken into account when James’ career receives a final grade.


Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley

AFRO Sports Desk