Dethroning Jordan

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship when it comes to movie trilogies. I love to hate the fact that third movies still find ways to be a massive letdown, even when they’re made to tie loose ends and act as a closure. For every “The Dark Knight Rises,” there’s a “Matrix Revolution.” For every “LOTR: Return of the King,” there’s a “Godfather III.” And for every “Toy Story 3,” there’s a “Sam Raimi Destroys Beloved Villain Venom in Spiderman 3 Because Why Not.”

Which is why I’m worried about John Wick 3. Please don’t screw it up, Hollywood.

For the same reason, I’m trying my best not to get too excited about the threematch between the Cavaliers and Warriors. Maybe it flops like the rest of the NBA Playoffs, a tournament snoozefest that resulted to my dad watching “13 Reasons Why.” Or maybe it will be like the last great NBA trilogy we had between the Lakers and the Celt…

Wait…

This is actually the first NBA trilogy we’ll ever have!

From the Lakers-Pistons in the 80s, Jazz-Bulls in the 90s, and even the Spurs-Heat just a couple of years ago, the league has seen its fair share of Finals rematch before. But in the long history of the NBA, we never had a chance to see two teams settle their 1-1 record in the game’s biggest stage. Thank the sports gods who decided it was time to have one!

For the NBA to have their first go on a trilogy, they needed both teams and players accomplish things that haven’t been done before.

  • No one thought a former MVP, who was ‘thisclose‘ to being in the Finals last season, would join a team that already has the first unanimous MVP. And yet that’s what happened during Kevin Durant’s free agency.
  • No one thought a team that lost NINE games in an 82-game season could become more dangerous. But somehow, Golden State managed to do so.
  • No one thought any team could sweep the whole Playoffs. But no one will judge you if you say the Warriors can because, in all honesty, they can!

With four All-NBA players entering their prime at the same time, the Warriors have destroyed the competitive balance in the NBA. They even now hold the record for team with highest net rating (+16.8) to enter the Finals!

Just look at their records for the last three years:

  • Regular season: 207-39
  • Playoffs : 43-14
  • Combined winning %: 82.5%

On the other side of the equation is LeBron James, the game’s best player that could also be the game’s greatest player in history.

Now before you send me death threats like what happened in my Ginebra article, I have used bold and italicized the word “could” as a polite way of saying that “he’s in a rare situation to show us that he’s better than Jordan.”

I was led to believe that Chicago’s 23 is untouchable. No matter which player we dubbed as the “next Jordan,” they almost always fall short of our expectations. That’s the curse endowed to those who wanted to be like Mike. The Dwyane Wades. The Vince Carters. Even the Kobe Bryants never came close to MJ, no matter how absurd that sounds.

Here’s the thing about Jordan’s greatness: He set the standard for greatness, then stole the bar and brought it waaaaay up, never to be seen again by anyone. It was meant to ensure that there will be no debate whatsoever and we’ll never waver from my opinion that Jordan is the greatest. But after seeing LeBron and what he has done throughout his career, I’m starting to waver.

In his 14 years in the league, James has carried immense pressure to perform, and easily exceeded EVERY expectations we have for him.

Remember the Sports Illustrated cover where they crowned him as the Chosen One? He averaged splits of 20.9/5.5/5.9 AS A ROOKIE, and played with poise while being under the microscope for the entire year.

Or how about at 22 years old, facing the Detroit Pistons for a spot in the NBA Finals? He scored 29 of Cleveland’s last 30 in Game 5, literally carrying a team that had Daniel Gibson as their 2nd best player.

When he took his talents to South Beach and had a big target on his back? He was able to carry Miami to four straight NBA Finals appearance, and went back-to-back.

Or when he moved back to Cleveland, vowed to end their title drought, lost in their first year in the Finals, regroup the following year, and found themselves down 3-1 against a team that won 73 games?

Well, this happened.

It’s becoming very hard to find reasons to hate his game that we’re basically nitpicking. I wish he shoots his free throws with his eyes closed better. I wish he shoots at halfcourt better. I wish he shoots with his left hand while fading to his right better. Again, we’re picking nits.

LeBron’s curse is that he never had a real rivalry with any player or team. He destroyed Chicago, played around with Boston, sent Atlanta to basketball purgatory, and embarrassed Toronto every chance he gets. James has the whole Eastern Conference at the palm of his hands, teams are waiting for his decline before making drastic moves to their roster. 

This is why Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors is the best thing that ever happened to James. In one move, he found his closest thing to a rival joining a team he has unfinished business with. In one move, he became an underdog even though they’re the defending champions, no matter how absurd that also sounds.

There’s a saying that goes, “aim for the moon because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” In a series that will feature the most star-studded lineup in NBA Finals history according to ESPN, James will need to aim for the moon and beat the Warriors.

He knows that’s where Jordan hid the bar.

– David Gamboa

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