I have spent the last 8 years of my hoops fan life calling Lebron the greatest player of all time. His combination of Magic Johnson skills, and a size and athleticism combination suggesting an evolutionary leap forward made it obvious to me. And then for 4 years I wrote and podcasted his greatness to death post-The Decision, mainly because of the obviousness of his talent and the hypocrisy of non-Cleveland basketball fans who seemed to only express outrage at Lebron’s disloyalty because he was not disloyal with them (hi Knick fans). So it is sort of bittersweet to see Lebron getting so much respect and credit now from people with low basketball IQs who could not fully appreciate Lebron’s greatness until they had 100% proof in the form of this year’s Finals run (a LOT of people on my Facebook feed qualify). Was he not the greatest of all time last year when he played great, but was severely under-matched against a brilliant and hungry Spurs team? Well now everyone is back on the Lebron bandwagon more than ever before and it has forced me to point out a fact amidst this love fest narrative: Lebron may be doing something Michael Jordan never did (potentially winning a finals without a stud second banana), but what Lebron is doing is NOT unprecedented. It happened in 1994 and was done by Hakeem Olajuwon.
In 1994 Hakeem Olajuwon took a team of journeymen and young, not yet developed talent on his back and carried them to a 7 game win over the Knicks (hi Knick fans) in the Finals. He averaged 28 ppg, more than double the next best playoff average on his team. And let’s look at his roster:
- Vernon Maxwell
- Robert Horry (rookie year)
- Kenny Smith
- Otis Thorpe
- Sam Cassell (rookie year)
- Mario Elie
Wow – doesn’t that roster inspire fear??? Not one all star on the team. Not sure if Thorpe ever made an all star team and I was informed on social media this morning debating this point that Sam Cassell made one all star team… in 2004. So the idea that no player has ever done what Lebron has done is plain false. Sorry, I have defended him and love watching him play, but facts are facts. And watching this finals aren’t the Cavs sort of displaying the same sort of unlikely heroes that the Rockets sort of did? Granted both supporting casts benefit from playing with a top 10 all time player, but let’s look at it:
- Dellavadova is playing as great as any role player in Finals history. And it is not all because of Lebron. The man is on every lose ball like one of those annoying guys trying to impress the coach.
- Tristan Thompson is rebounding like the spirit of Dennis Rodman is inside him
- Timofey Mozgov is proving to be a competent center (Hi Knick fans). Not an all star, but solid in the post, able to hit clutch free throws (game 1) and a legitimate rim protector
- JR Smith and Iman Shumpert (just to say hi Knick fans), but isnt JR Smith basically Vernon Maxwell?
My point is this: I freely admit that this Cavs supporting cast wouldn’t win 30 games without Lebron, but neither would that 1994 Rockets team. So let’s enjoy Lebron’s run as potentially the greatest finals performance ever, but what he is doing is not completely unprecedented. Hakeem may have operated int he shadow of Michael Jordan’s departure, but it is no reason to bury his legacy under the ascension of Lebron James.