It’s easy to discount the performance of Lebron James and his Cavaliers in the 2016 National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals because they literally allowed themselves to fall into a 2-0 and later 3-1 hole (or pit) before getting their game going to eventually win the series in a dramatic way.
Honestly, do you believe Michael Jordan would allow an NBA Finals to reach seven games or allow the opposing team to outscore them by nearly 50 points in two straight games?
After the 2016 NBA Finals, James’s record is 3-4 (win-loss) while Jordan is 6-0. So that means James can’t hold a candle to Jordan? Well, not so fast.
Becoming the first NBA team to win a championship from a 3-1 deficit assures James of his own claim to greatness.
Also, beating a defending champion that registered the best record (73-9) in the regular season and were led by a league’s top scorer in Stephen Curry was no easy task. The Golden State Warriors were even playing a different style of basketball that perplexed almost all teams in the NBA. With long-range artillery combined with a “run and gun” style of play, the Warriors were simply hard to beat.
Having two prolific long-range shooters and two or more players who could shoot well from the outside is a nightmare of a team. So imagine Klay Thompson and Curry raining threes and long shots totaling 30 to 50 points a game, and another two or three players chipping in 10 to 30 points from the long range?
The Warriors were also bent on establishing their dynasty starting this year.
And in truth, the Cavaliers knew little on how to beat the Warriors because the team from Golden State beat them twice in the regular season. A change of coach by Cleveland to the “untested” Tyron Lue with the season past halfway also presented great risks.
Honestly, has Jordan been in a similar situation on his way to six NBA championships?
When Jordan collared his last three championships from 1996 to 1998, the Chicago Bulls were already a cohesive unit that had championship experience gained from their first three titles from 1991 to 1993. The Bulls also had one hell of a coach in Phil Jackson. And comparing Jackson and Lue is totally pointless (unless you’re insane).
And in all the six NBA Finals Jordan figured in, it was only the Los Angeles Lakers that was a championship squad. But the Lakers the Bulls defeated in 1991 were trounced twice by the Detroit Pistons in the two prior finals, so the Lakers’ best days as a title contender were already in the backburner. The rest of the squads the Bulls faced in their other five finals appearances never won a championship to this day: Portland Trailblazers; Phoenix Suns; Seattle Supersonics; and Utah Jazz.
How does the Warriors of this era compare to all the teams the Bulls beat in the NBA Finals?
I am not denigrating Jordan and his accomplishments, but using stats or numbers to judge who is the better player can sometimes be pointless. But Jordan should also be praised for demonstrating “small guys” or those who are 6’6” can electrify the game and he did that in a huge way. And he did not in an era where the big men or centers dominated. I have yet to see Jordan’s equal to this day.
As for James, perhaps too much was expected from him because of his imposing physical frame at 6’9” and his freakish athleticism. And in the 2016 NBA Finals, he may not have been “Jordanesque” but what he did to beat the Warriors may be a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. And that was great, too.