With a 113-87 victory on Friday night against the Toronto Raptors, LeBron James advanced to his sixth consecutive NBA Finals, a mark beginning from the 2010-11 NBA season. Many people are applauding LeBron James for doing something that hasn’t been done in 50 years – yes, Michael Jordan couldn’t even do this. But is it a possibility we’re overreacting to a sixth straight NBA Finals appearance by LeBron?
To understand where I’m coming from this, I’ll have to let you know what I do respect LeBron James for. For a good 5 year span, he was the best player in all of basketball. He’s played in more games than anyone else in the entire NBA during this stretch and also participating in the Olympics, LeBron’s devoted his body to the game. It is not a light toll your body pays for that many games in such a short amount of time. Despite all this, I’m sure the media’s painted a picture that makes this feat a lot prettier than it really is. Now, if you’d excuse me, allow me to turn the lights on.
In these six consecutive NBA Finals appearances, LeBron James has made four trips of these with the Miami Heat and two of them with the Cleveland Cavaliers. How he began this journey was signing in the 2010 offseason with the Miami Heat, joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, creating a super team out East, and not to mention a younger Big 3 than what Boston had the season before. Do I hold it against LeBron getting out of Cleveland, who never surrounded him with any talent his first seven years? Of course not! Players use free agency to their advantage all the time, as they should. But then after reaching four straight NBA Finals with Miami, including two championships, he bolts for a couple partners in crime as younger alternatives to Bosh and Wade, and then make it the next two years with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
In both situations, LeBron James has had to compete in the Eastern Conference. I believe most would generally say that the East has been one of the easier conferences in recent memory compared to the stiff competition in the West. LeBron’s stiffest competition in this conference has been Chicago, Boston, and Indiana. James is not often tested by a team in a weak conference to make a trip to the NBA Finals. Has there been a postseason in the last six years where you look at three or four teams in the Eastern Conference and TRULY believe they can go all the way and win the NBA Finals? It’s just not as difficult of a task to get to the NBA Finals for LeBron as it is anyone in the Western Conference.
Now what makes these annual trips almost meaningless, is what he did when he got there. Just like it doesn’t matter when you’re drafted, but it matters what you do when you get drafted, the same pertains to the NBA Finals. It doesn’t really matter how many times you get there, but it matters what you do when you’re there. LeBron James is 2-3 in the NBA Finals during this streak, 2-4 in his entire career. As a matter of fact, all of these losses came in six games or less. How can you applaud one’s graduating high school when he gets eaten alive in college?
Is this another cool statistic for the media? Yes, but it doesn’t mean it’s so impressive that it launches him onto another level. If he doesn’t win the NBA Championship this year, which he very may well at this point, then this streak will only be remembered for a mediocre rundown of the Eastern Conference.