It seems like a lifetime ago, and now we know it was a glaring error in judgment, but Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen got us all to thinking two weeks ago when he declared that Miami Heat forward LeBron James would surpass Michael Jordan as the game’s greatest player.
"Greatest" isn’t that easily passed on, but Pippen had a side-seat view of Jordan’s greatness and he was fresh off of having courtside seats for James’ dismantling of the Chicago Bulls during the Eastern Conference Finals. So we thought, "Maybe it’s true: We are seeing the making of the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T)."
But in the NBA Finals, we quickly realized Pippen’s anointment was premature, and our chance to witness greatness in the making was dashed. James is a special player combining size, cat-like speed and the uncanny ability to affect the game in so many ways. But his DNA doesn’t seem to have greatness and certainly not G.O.A.T status attached to it.
James, on the biggest stage since he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 as a 22-year-old, was a major disappointment again. This time, with a cast of stars that included future Hall of Famers Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, James should have been much more dominant. But he wasn’t.
James let his team down at the most critical times, none more than in the fourth quarters, where he consistently pulled disappearing acts in the NBA Finals, which the Dallas Mavericks won in six games. The self-proclaimed King played the role of toad when his team needed him most in five of the six games.
He seemed resigned to allow Wade and Bosh to do the heavy lifting while he played the role of passive facilitator during crunch time.
Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlin would never have allowed that happen. Heck, neither would current stars Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki for that matter.
Last summer, James stunned Cleveland when he announced on national television that he was “taking his talents to South Beach.” He should have taken his heart, too.
We now know something is missing inside of James. We incorrectly believed he could never win it all in Cleveland because he lacked the supporting cast. It’s obvious the problem is deeper.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said after last summer’s “Decision” that someone wants to go to heaven without dying first. Who knew his inflammatory words would be so prophetic?
That isn’t to suggest James will never get to hoist the O’Brien Trophy over his head. He probably will, maybe several times. But it’s highly unlikely he will be the catalyst. That pressure will fall on the shoulders of Wade and Bosh.