Below in a short back and forth conversation between Fear the Sword's Chris Manning and Carter Rodriguez about what the 2016 NBA Finals mean for LeBron James.
Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): Carter, I have a question for you. If LeBron James leads the Cavs to a title, is it his greatest accomplishment to date?
Carter Rodriguez (@Carter_Shade): I think that is pretty comfortably the case. This might be among LeBron's best teams, but they're playing arguably the best regular season team in history. It seems to me that the primary roadmap to the Cavaliers winning this series would be for LeBron to hit another gear and lead them there, so, yes, it would be. There's no other way to interpret this, right?
CM: These are Warriors might be the best team ever, period, so I'd agree. Golden State doesn't really have an answer for LeBron aside from Andre Iguodala and LeBron should have an easier time against Iggy because a) Iggy just defended Kevin Durant for seven game and b) the lane won't be clogged like it was last year.
I think it also matters that if LeBron plays well, it'll make things easier for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. I'm of the opinion that one of those two - and it's probably Kyrie - has to be great in this series for the Cavs to win. I think that's more likely if LeBron is also playing out of his mind.
CSR: I agree. People tend to equate "LeBron is playing out of his mind" with taking over with a scoring burst, but that's not really how it always plays out. If he's finding Irving and Love in their spots and getting them going, along with absorbing extra defensive attention, that will give them their best chance. That said, the Warriors are favorites in this series.
The muttering about LeBron's Finals record is going to grow into a dull roar if the Cavs lose and LeBron moves to 2-5 in the Finals. I can guess how you feel about this, but obviously, I think it's nonsense. He had two teams that had no business being competitive in the Finals in the first place due to either a lack of talent (2007) or injuries (2015). It often feels like people would be easier on the guy if he'd missed a Finals or two and had a slightly better record.
What's your stance on how this should affect the way we feel about LBJ? Can it only be a positive for him in a win and a net neutral in a loss?
CM: Weirdly, I'm not sure how much pressure is actually on him. Most - and quite reasonably, I might add - are doubting the Cavs in this series. For what feels like the first or second time ever, LeBron is the underdog here. If the Cavs lose, I don't think the blame falls on him at all. I think it will be chalked up the Warriors being great and Kevin Love and/or Kyrie Irving not being good enough. That sucks, but that's where this is headed.
Certain fans (cough Kobe fans cough) will hold the 2-5 Finals record against him. But if he and the Cavs lose this year, this isn't 2011 again. It's just that the Warriors are great. Cleveland as a city may not love that outcome or judge him for it, but that's a different topic for another day.
CSR: I just am starting to wonder whether this conversation is worthwhile, because whose appraisal of his legacy are we accounting for? The general public? I think that, if folks are hoping for the kind of universal appreciation that Michael Jordan gets, they're going to be sorely disappointed, especially with another Finals loss.
If we're not looking for the general public, and are instead looking at the reaction from hardcore fans, don't they already do a pretty good job of appreciating him, along with most players? Sure, there will always be people who just don't like a player and will look for flaws, but on balance, people have an appropriate respect for LeBron, with his Finals record or not.
When you're talking about "legacy," which of those two groups are you looking at?
CM: I think it matters in two ways. For one, LeBron winning this series gives him another singular achievement that adds to his argument for ‘GOAT'. It also give a head to head win vs. Steph Curry in the Finals, which really shouldn't matter much but, to your casual fan, I think it does.
I also think it matters in the sense that it sort of brings LeBron's time in Cleveland full circle. It accomplishes the goal he very much made public when he returned and I think it cements him in the city. I think he should be already, but there are a lot of people that don't like him still. A title probably changes that, at least in my mind.
CSR: That's fair, and I agree. I'm personally on the "this can only help" train. If they lose, they were supposed to. If they win, it's the greatest accomplishment in his career, but, as I said, that only really holds up with hardcore fans. To a casual observer, if he was so great, he'd win. So, if he doesn't do that, it will hurt his legacy.
I do wonder how much more valuable that title in Cleveland is for his legacy. Is it worth, say, two titles elsewhere? I think the narrative pull here is strong, and for better or worse (mostly worse), narrative drives how the public perceives these sorts of things.