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Smith: Show LeBron a little love

| Friday, October 2, 2020

Amid all of the chaos of 2020, there has been one bit of normalcy that has convinced me this year hasn’t just been some never-ending dream: a LeBron James-led team is in the NBA Finals. After coming into the season as title favorites, James and the Los Angeles Lakers cruised through the Western Conference with series victories over the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, culminating in a Finals matchup with the Miami Heat that begins Wednesday night. 

Even though the Lakers are favored to win the series, it will be no easy task for them. With Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro leading the Heat, the Lakers could struggle to compete with Miami’s depth and 3-point shooting. But for fans and many members of the media, that is no excuse for Los Angeles to lose because they have James, the best player in the world and one of the best to ever play the game. The sports world expects him to win every series, to dominate every game, to hit every clutch shot and to lock down the opposing team’s best player every play. Despite his dominance, people never relent with the pressure they put on James to be exceptional every time he steps on the floor. For this Finals series, I propose that we do something a little different. I suggest we sit back, relax and enjoy watching one of the greatest athletes ever do his thing without complaint.

With the Lakers’ victory over the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, James booked a trip to the Finals for the 10th time in his career. The 10th time! That is more Finals appearances than every team in the NBA except for the Lakers, Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, and James has only been in the league for 17 seasons. Every other franchise has been around for decades and has been unable to accomplish what James has for three different teams, as he previously made the Finals during his stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Heat. 

However, many critics point to James’ 3-6 record in the Finals as an underwhelming aspect of his legacy. It’s a fair point to make. Other NBA legends such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan were all much more successful with their trips to the Finals, sporting records of 6-0, 5-2 and 5-1, respectively. Yet none of those players had to face the juggernaut Warriors with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson four years in a row as James did with the Cavaliers, going 1-3 against them. As a result, we shouldn’t punish James for having inferior teams during each of those seasons. Instead, we should focus on how impressive it is that James has been able to reach the Finals so consistently with multiple franchises and different groups of players.

Furthermore, James has certainly never been the reason that any of his teams have lost in the Finals. Although he underperformed compared to his high standards during the 2011 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, James was named the Finals MVP during each of his three championship runs. Additionally, James is seventh all-time with 28.2 points per game during the Finals. Due to his consistent scoring and all-around play in the Finals, we shouldn’t put all of the blame for these series losses on James’ shoulders. Numerous factors influence whether or not a team wins a championship, and I can guarantee that every franchise in the league would love to have James on its side during the playoffs.

Throughout the postseason, James has been the most talked about player in the NBA, just as he is every year. Sports talk shows tend to analyze his every move, reassessing his legacy after every playoff performance to figure out how he compares to other NBA legends. This time around, I say we mix it up and just admire James for what he is: one of the most captivating athletes in all of sports.

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