Lebron James is not only one of the five greatest athletes of the 21st century, he’s one of the five greatest basketball players in the history of the sport. Other than Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, no one else comes close to being an all around complete player than Lebron. Since debuting in the NBA straight out of high school in 2003, only Kobe Bryant can make a claim to be on Lebron’s level as far as dominating play in the NBA. James’s historical 14 year career is still far from over. At 32, he is playing some of his finest ball. These are many of the reasons Lebron James is the third greatest athlete of the 21st century.
Lebron easily won the NBA rookie of the year award in 2004. At 6’8″ and 225 pounds and only 19 years old, James possessed skills no one had seen at his size since the glory days of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. If James wanted, he could score 40 points a night, but he was always inclined to make everyone around him better by distributing the ball. This, despite being on a Cleveland Cavaliers team that had abysmal talent. It was until James’ third year in the league that Cleveland made the playoffs. It was the following season’s playoffs in 2007 that saw Lebron’s first legendary playoff performance.
Lebron carried the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Eastern Conference finals against the heavily favored Detroit Pistons. Detroit won the first two games of the series at Detroit. Cleveland rebounded by winning the next two games to tie the series. In Game 5 at Detroit, the Pistons had a seven point lead with three minutes left in the game. Lebron took over from there by scoring 29 of the Cavs last 30 points, carrying his team to an incredible double overtime victory. It didn’t matter what Detroit would do; they doubled and sometimes tripled teamed him, Lebron couldn’t be stopped. It was one of the most amazing performances in the history of the NBA. Cleveland would take Game 6 and move on to the NBA finals. They would get swept by the San Antonio Spurs, but they had no business getting there in the first place. Lebron took a franchise filled with roles players and secondary talent to the finals in what could be considered the greatest accomplishment of his legendary career.
In 2010, Lebron left Cleveland as a free agent and joined the Miami Heat. Beginning with the 2010-2011 season, Lebron has led his teams to the NBA Finals six straight times, winning three of them. After losing the 2011 finals to the Dallas Mavericks, Lebron led Miami to back to back titles; first defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 and then defeating the San Antonio Spurs in 2013. It was the series against the Spurs that highlighted another legendary performance by James. The Spurs were up 3-2 in the series and had a 10 point lead heading into the fourth quarter. They were 12 minutes away from winning their fifth NBA title in fourteen years(all while being coached by Greg Popovich with Tim Duncan as his leading star). Lebron once again demonstrated his greatness, scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter and helped force the game into overtime. Cleveland won in overtime, forcing a decisive Game 7. Lebron was just as incredible in Game 7, scoring 37 points and making a huge steal late in the game to secure Miami’s second consecutive championship. Three years later, it was another defensive play by Lebron that is widely regarded as one of the greatest defensive plays in NBA history.
Entering the 2016 NBA Finals, many so called experts were questioning Lebron’s legacy. He had lost two consecutive NBA Finals, first with Miami and then again with Cleveland. After losing in 2014 in an NBA Finals rematch to San Antonio, Lebron left Miami as a free agent and went back to Cleveland. Despite key injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, Lebron carried the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. They would lose in six games to the Stephen Curry led Golden State Warriors. The Warriors set the all the NBA record in the 2015-16 season winning 73 games while only losing 9. They were a huge favorite to defeat Cleveland for a second consecutive time in the finals. They took a commanding 3-1 lead going into their homecourt. Cleveland was all but done. Someone forgot to tell Lebron.
Lebron scored 41 points in both Games 5 and 6, forcing a decisive Game 7. Game 7 was one of the most intense and greatest games in NBA history. The game was tied at 89 with less than two minutes to play. Warriors forward Andre Igoudala was headed to an easy layup on a Cleveland turnover. Out of nowhere, Lebron blocked Igoudala’s shot from behind, keeping the Warriors from scoring a crucial basket. Seconds later, Irving hit a big three point shot and Cleveland won their first ever NBA title. Lebron’s block of Igoudala’s layup is the greatest defensive play I’ve ever seen in my 40 years of watching the NBA. It helped cement Lebron as not only one of the five greatest players in NBA history, but also as the third greatest athlete of the 21st century.
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