A 5th LeBron James title would create no right or wrong in GOAT debate

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images /

The NBA GOAT debate becomes a lot harder if LeBron James wins championship number 5.

Unfathomably, LeBron James has just entered his 18th season with his Lakers as the consensus preseason title favorite. James turns 36 in a week and hasn’t been this heavily favored to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy since his first year in Miami at age 26 while he was thought to be his “prime”, which has truthfully just lasted 18 years.

The LeBron fatigue is REAL out here outside of Ohio, some in Miami, and in Los Angeles, but we all better buckle up for more of this because he’s not slowing down soon and turn the other cheek to anyone who says otherwise.

The ‘great GOAT debate’ between him and the great Michael Jordan took off like a tidal wave after LeBron’s historic third title over Golden State in 2016. With social media, the advanced technology age, and the expansion of media have made this the most micro-analyzed, scrutinized debate in sports and probably the world of entertainment as a whole.

The unprecedented bubble title LeBron James and his Lakers just won in October only enhances a more layered and complex decision for basketball’s true top one.

Still, as we stand today, since 2016, in a laundry list of pros and cons for both Mike and LeBron as the ‘GOAT’, the glaring red mark of the 2011 finals loss from LeBron’s Heat and it’s overwhelmingly catastrophic and embarrassing nature clearly gave the edge to ‘The Black Cat.’

Given it was LeBron’s second finals appearance, the fact that they were the obvious heavy favorite with the two top players in the series, and seeing them lose three straight after holding a 2-1 lead, and seeing LeBron absolutely crumble and get outplayed by the likes of Jason Terry and JJ Barea in those closeout L’s, it seemed to be too big a demerit to overcome against Mike.

But since that finals failure, miraculously, LeBron has put together the greatest decade stretch of individual performance in NBA history without hesitation. A decade stretch that includes four rings, nine finals appearances, and not nearly as many MVP awards as he deserves.

But it’s also come with a handful of finals losses. And here’s the aspect of the debate where you must be very careful who you listen to for influence. Those who strictly stick by Jordan will say all of LeBron’s finals losses are huge legacy detriments, which is silly.

However, that camp of extreme LeBron James followers we love to hate will tell you that Jordan never played a team in the finals close to as talented as the Warriors LeBron faced from 2016-2018. While this is in fact true, the LeBron stans out there will proclaim it as if to say Jordan’s finals resume is weak sauce or something.

Though I’m sure this group of lovely people neglected ‘the Last Dance’ documentary from April, there’s no denying a perfect 6-0 finals record with a resume of besting the likes of the championship-ladened Showtime Lakers, prime Clyde ‘the glide’ Drexler, prime Sir Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton‘s tenacious Supersonics, and the lethal Stockton and Malone duo is more than enough for the top one status MJ earned.

Now, looking ahead at what a fifth title in an eleventh finals appearance would mean for this debate. Two titles apiece in Miami and Los Angeles within LeBron’s first three years there would be incredibly outstanding.

It speaks to his leadership and ability to elevate those around him to create the continuity necessary to win rings with different teammates on the fly in new locales, forcing different mixes of rosters together. On top of the historically great Cleveland title.

In addition to being the communal teammate and winning with a wide variety of teammates, coaches, and franchises, another season of LeBron as the top player in the NBA would widen the already large gap he has on Jordan in terms of longevity.

Jordan was on his way out of basketball in Washington, still putting up numbers, but far removed from the title chase at the age LeBron is currently at.

Accomplishment and legacy aside, in a vacuum as ballplayers and their ability, LeBron has also gained ground on Jordan in this debate from the standpoint of being a far better facilitator throughout his time.

While Jordan has a more polished scoring skillset, LeBron’s unstoppable, forceful slashing ability, impeccable IQ, and outside shooting improvement has made him just as efficient and high volume of a scorer.

On the flip, Mike was still a First-Team All-Defense performer at the age LeBron is currently at. LeBron was once a First-Team all defense performer in Miami, with an ability to check anyone playing 1-5, but given the finals mileage on him, he’s taken defense lightly in recent years; though we saw in the bubble he can flip a switch and play lockdown ‘D’ when it’s called upon.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this debate is just so exhausting and never ending once it gets rolling.

As far as how it’ll continue to on, normally the saying with a long NBA regular season is it doesn’t really start until Christmas Day. In an unprecedented shortened season with a late start, the regular season won’t really kick into gear until mid to late February.

So regardless of last night’s impressive Clipper victory, with the defending champs’ excellent offseason, they’re the heavy favorite to repeat. Although last night’s result was pretty meaningless in the grand scheme, the Clippers are the lone team in the west that has a long shot to knock them off, though their glaring point guard production issue can’t be ignored.

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The Lakers will likely advance to play one of Miami, Brooklyn, or Milwaukee in the NBA Finals. Though all are legitimate if healthy, LeBron James and ‘AD’ locked in with this supporting core get the nod, immediately. The two greatest to ever lace them up may just be sharing the throne by season’s end.