Zwiller: LeBron James may be the new definition of GOAT
Thomas Zwiller | Wednesday, October 14, 2020
The Latin name for goat is capra aegagrus hircus, a member of the family bovidae, the order artiodactyla, the class mammalia, the phylum chordata — I could go on but I’ll spare you the time. I believe the classification of ‘goat’ now needs a change. The domain of GOAT (greatest of all time) is now the domain of LeBron James.
By securing his fourth Championship, and his fourth Finals MVP, the GOAT is now LeBron James. James has finally overthrown Michael Jordan for the title, and here’s why:
Yes, Michael Jordan is a six-time NBA Champion and yes, James is a four-time NBA Champion. Yes, I am aware that six is two more than four and that Michael has more rings than James. But by that logic, Bill Russell is the true GOAT with his impressive 11-ring count. Yet still, Jim Loscutoff and Robert Horry with seven rings are better than Michael Jordan, and they haven’t even been inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. While yes, ring counting is a good way of determining who great players are, it should not be the be all end all of who is the GOAT. Otherwise, Jordan is only the 12th-greatest player to play in the NBA, and I don’t think anyone thinks that. I think James’ rings, frankly, are more impressive the Jordan’s in some regards.
James won two with the Heat, which is fine to me — those were good years in Miami. But then he came home to Cleveland and brought them their only NBA championship and the city’s first title after a long drought. Not only did he do that, but he did it coming back from being down 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors. These just weren’t any old team however, these Warriors were the defending champs, and had just completed a 73-9 season the best in NBA regular season history. Then you look at James’ title in Los Angeles with the Lakers, the most historic championship ever. It tied the Boston Celtics, who had a record of 17 championships that the Lakers have now tied. James ended a playoff drought and a title drought for the Lakers in one fell swoop. It was done amidst a pandemic and social justice issues. It was done in the name of Kobe Bryant, who had died just nine months before. It was done in a season, counting the preseason, that was over a year long. It was done in a bubble, isolated from fans, friends and family. What James doesn’t have in quantity, he makes up for in quality.
Jordan is 6-0 in the Finals:
Another argument that perplexes me in the GOAT discussion is the fact that Michael Jordan is 6-0 in the Finals is treated like Jordan went 1,000-0 in the Finals. This compared to James going 4-6 in the finals is being treated as an indelible mark against James and his career. Remind me, why are we punishing James for making it to the Finals more times than Jordan? Instead of weighing their records in the Finals, why don’t we look at the record of the two making it to the NBA Finals? Jordan played for 15 years, 13 for the Bulls and two for the Wizards. He went to the Finals six times, meaning his record of making it to the Finals is 6-9, and even if you take away the Wizards years, he went 6-7. James on the other hand has played for 17 seasons and made the Finals 10 times. That gives James a 10-7 record in making the Finals. Winning a conference championship is incredibly hard, and James has four more of them than Jordan, which in my mind counts for something. If you’re the GOAT like Jordan, shouldn’t you have been able to roll through the playoffs? James could carry his teams deeper into the playoffs, doing more and getting farther. Are you really going to knock James for doing more than Jordan?
One of the biggest storylines to come out of the NBA Finals was that James is now the first player in the history of the NBA to win Finals MVP on three different teams for a total of four. While yes, I am aware that Jordan has six Finals MVPs, and yes, I am aware that six is two more than four, I still think that James’ Finals MVPs are more impressive, for the reason above. No player has ever taken three separate teams to the Finals and then won while being the Finals MVP. Jordan has six, and yes that is impressive in its own right, but they were all won with the same team. The Bulls were a good team — even without Jordan they were a playoff-caliber team. The year Jordan stepped away and played baseball with the Birmingham Barons, the Bulls went 55-27 and made it to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, losing narrowly to the Knicks in seven Games. Jordan’s absence was not the end of the team, the team could play on and win without him to be fair Jordan did elevate them.
When James left a team, however, it had devastating consequences for them. In his last year with the Cavaliers before leaving for the Heat, James led to them to a 61-21 record and a conference semifinal. When James went to the Heat, the Cavaliers literally did a 180, going 19-63 and missing the playoffs by 43 games. When James went back to the Cavaliers, they returned to winning form, going 53-29, and going all the way to the Finals. Meanwhile, the Heat fell to 37-45, missing the playoffs altogether. When James left the Cavilers for the Lakers the Cavilers had just gone 50-32 and made an NBA Final, the Lakers had just gone 35-47 and missed the playoffs. The following year, the Lakers went 37-45, largely due to a James injury, but more tellingly the Cavaliers had gone 19-63.
In conclusion, James simply changed the math by winning four Finals MVPs for three separate teams. He may never win six Finals like Jordan did, but the fact that he has now done it for the Heat, the Cavaliers and now the Lakers shows he can do it anywhere. James isn’t done either, the Lakers are currently favorites to win the NBA Finals next year, and even if they don’t win, they will make some serious noise. I expect to see James hoist the trophy at least one more time. As James said, “I want my damn respect,” I suggest you listen to the man and recognize your new GOAT.