You can believe a great many things, but believe this most of all: LeBron James will never surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player in NBA history — not after this slaughter at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.
To pass His Airness, LeBron needed to atone for his gravest sin.
The 2011 NBA Finals loom over everything the King has done in his majestic career. There's no logical explanation for the way he disappeared against the Dallas Mavericks, even when you account for Dallas' perfect game-plan in that series.
LeBron came up short in the biggest way. He didn't shoot the Heat out of the game. He didn't turn the ball over countless times in a desperate effort to win the series by himself.
He faded to the background, taking his claim to the GOAT throne with him.
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Yet LeBron faced a chance at redemption in 2017, for those willing to forgive his trespasses.
This Golden State Warriors team was the greatest assemblage of talent in NBA history — a team built for the express purpose of winning championships at LeBron's expense.
If he could take down a 73-win team featuring the first unanimous MVP, then do it all over again when that same superteam added Kevin Durant, maybe — just maybe — LeBron could start to chip away at Jordan's invincible armor.
Making a stand against these Warriors en route to LeBron's first three-peat and a couple more MVP awards would have turned up the heat on the MJ-LeBron conversation. Losing in seven games would have been understandable, as well.
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A five-game series completely closes the door on the conversation.
This 4-1 drumming at the hands of the Warriors wasn't LeBron's fault, of course. He averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 10.0 assists in the Finals and played some of the greatest basketball of his career — although questions about his "killer instinct" continued to pop up, as will happen when you insist on making the right basketball play over going one-on-five.
LeBron did everything he could (short of driving into the teeth of the defense in Game 3, but that's a conversation for a different day), and it wasn't nearly enough.
Some will hold that against him. Others will try to defend his legacy by pointing to the stacked deck he faced.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. While the 2017 Finals won't detract from how we view LeBron once he's all said and done in the NBA, the loss doesn't bolster his resume, either — not any further than his impressive streak of consecutive Finals appearances already does.
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So let's stop the noise and appreciate the legend unfolding before us. We can all do that, can't we?
We can embrace LeBron's greatness. We can understand why he's come up short, both on a personal and systemic level. We can celebrate the fact that almost everything Michael Jordan did on the court, LeBron does better — except win at the highest level.
Most of all, we can realize the nuance in this conversation. We can acknowledge the difference between "best" and "greatest." We can make room for both LeBron and Jordan in our basketball world-views.
We can move forward together, right?
... yeah, you're right. Let's keep arguing forever. It's more fun that way.