TooAthletic Takes

With the Los Angeles Lakers moving the heavens and the earth to bring in talent to support LeBron James in the twilight years of his career one thing is now a certainty:  Among non-centers, Michael “Air” Jordan will always fly higher than LeBron “King” James.

What made Kawhi Leonard’s achievements in Toronto so special this year was the fact that he didn’t do it with a ready-made winner like the San Antonio Spurs, a Raptors team that had never tasted a championship before.  Leonard was able to take a team and teach them how to win and show them how to win both on and off the court; this is why teams like the Los Angeles Lakers were willing to wait for him to make a decision on where he wanted to play. 

By contrast, when LeBron James went to the Miami Heat, he made sure that everyone that he wanted to play with was there, and in the process created a modern day “super team.”  He was unwilling to wait for a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers to grow up around him or for the franchise to acquire better players for him, he wanted to win, he wanted to win right away, but he also had to win on his terms and timetable, not anyone else’s.  “The Chosen One” needed to speed up the process and not pay his dues the way Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls did.

The concept of Larry Bird and “Magic” Johnson being on the same team or Michael Jordan inviting Isiah Thomas to Chicago to play with him on the Bulls is beyond unfathomable.  These are all players who not only wanted to be the best, but understood they had to beat the best in order to properly claim their title.  When Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder and joined the Golden State Warriors, he was considered a sellout for signing up with a team that had already won a championship, yet somehow creating a “super team” was more accepted.  Sure, LeBron James caught some heat when he left for Miami, leaving the Cavs in his cold wake; but to me there is little difference between what “The King” did and Durant did, yet one was right and one was wrong after doing basically the same thing for the same reason.

What makes the run of the New England Patriots so remarkable is that Bill Belichick has always found a way to infuse new players into his system.  Those players always keep the locker room hungry, almost desperate for a championship; something that NBA players want but are not willing to wait for.  Nowadays it’s cool to team up with your buddies and plan your free agency together as if they were going on a honeymoon (See Durant and Irving).

The only true power NBA players have lies in free agency because salaries are limited and players are thought to be “leaving money on the table” if they leave the team that drafted them for another franchise.  The result is the “super team” which, recent history shows us, is liked by the fans because dynasties sell; they give some people a team to root for, while the rest have a team to hate.  Thanks to LeBron James, the handful of “super teams” the NBA now has will fight for years to come like a basketball version of “Games of Thrones” with each new superstar waiting for their chance to join their friends and make their run.  And while LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard might win a few more rings in their careers; unless another players comes along and goes 6-6 in the NBA Finals the way Michael Jordan did, his “Airness” will always be the best non-center ever to play the game.

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