As LeBron James gets ready for his 10th NBA Finals appearance, Yahoo Sports senior NBA insider Chris Haynes, 17-year NBA veteran Richard Jefferson and NBA TV’s Jared Greenberg discuss what the result will mean for The King’s legacy.
JARED GREENBERG: And here's the situation with LeBron. He continues to add to his impressive resume that has him in the conversation for the greatest of all time. We bring back in Chris Haynes and Richard Jefferson to discuss the obvious elephant in the room. Which is every time LeBron makes it to the Finals, or doesn't make it to the Finals, we have this conversation, fellas. RJ, what does this series down here in the Orlando Bubble mean for LeBron's legacy?
RICHARD JEFFERSON: It doesn't mean anything. And I think he's fully aware. Right? He understands that his Finals appearances are something that are typically used against him in his legacy. Especially when he doesn't win. Right? Like when you talk about him taking his first Cleveland team when he was 22 years old. That's used against him. Even though they lost to the dynasty in the Spurs. You know, you look at him going against some of the loaded Warrior teams. Those things are used against him. He understands that, unless he wins the championship, that's the only thing that will ever count for him. Anything else, anything less will pretty much put him in a position to be criticized. Oh, well Jordan didn't do this. Or Kareem has this. Or Bill Russell did this. And that's who he is, I don't want to say chasing. But that's who he is in the same category as. And that's the one thing that probably separates him, is his Finals record. So yes, we should marvel. You know, the term, we should give him his flowers. But one thing that he's very aware of is that all of these flowers right now will be critical, and they will be criticism, if he does not win a championship. So his Finals appearance numbers do not matter at all to him. And understandably so.
CHRIS HAYNES: Well I think I agree Richard Jefferson to a certain extent. This NBA Finals right here, I think it is significant in the fact that LeBron James can't lose against his former team. He can't. It can't happen. Like his legacy, you know, there's always people criticizing where LeBron ranks at. Some people have him outside the top-10, the top-five. You know what I mean? Just, you know, ludicrous statements that people put out there. But one thing about his critics, if he loses to the Miami Heat, this will be a blemish that can't be removed at all. Bleach couldn't remove the stain. So he has to take care of business. And this will be one of the most-- you know, you look at how he came back from 3-1. Obviously that was an historic feat. I covered that team. You know, Richard Jefferson was over there as well. That was a huge accomplishment. You know, you can't dismiss the two championships in Miami. But this right here, in the Bubble, everybody was playing up against it. With just not being in a comfortable environment. Something they're not accustomed to doing. And then playing your former team. And then let's keep in mind the way that things ended with LeBron in Miami. They didn't end good. So he can't let Pat Riley get him in this Finals. So if he is able to do that, this will be one of the most significant championships.
RICHARD JEFFERSON: Chris, Chris. The one thing I will say. The one thing I will say is, former organization, there is only one person that's still on that team that he played on, and that's Udonis.
CHRIS HAYNES: It doesn't matter, RJ. It doesn't matter.
RICHARD JEFFERSON: No. No. But what I'm saying, though, is that I don't think that that has anything-- oh, well he lost to his former team. Like when we start having those legacy conversations, well he lost to his former team. I don't think that, just in my opinion, I understand what you're saying. Because that's a narrative. That's a great narrative story. But it's, like, Pat Riley put together a team, and a great team, a very, very, good team. But I think, like, when it's like, oh, well Jordan never lost to his former team. Like, Kareem never lost to his former-- like those are narratives. At the end of the day, it's more of, like, he's playing against a team that he hasn't played on in, what, six years now. Seven years since he's been there.
JARED GREENBERG: Well let me throw something in here a little bit.
CHRIS HAYNES: The constant is Pat Riley. Pat Riley's putting it all on the--
JARED GREENBERG: Right. But hold on. Let me throw something in.
RICHARD JEFFERSON: Well Jared, Jared, what are you talking about, Jared? No, I'm joking. I'm joking. Go ahead.
JARED GREENBERG: There would be something a little bit different if LeBron hadn't won already. It's not as if the Heat are going to win a championship before LeBron did. You know, before LeBron was able to win a championship.
CHRIS HAYNES: It's not about that. It's not about that, Jared.
JARED GREENBERG: No. But here's the one part, Chris, that I will take your side on this part of it, though. Here is a rare opportunity for LeBron in the Finals. He's actually the Vegas favorite in the Finals here.
RICHARD JEFFERSON: Yes.
JARED GREENBERG: That doesn't happen with LeBron very often. He's only lost as a favorite one time. And that was in that one that's going to come back and haunt him forever, 2011 against Dallas. So, fellas, I mean, the Heat are the underdogs here in this one. And LeBron is the favorite. And that's a rare position, RJ, for LeBron in the Finals.
RICHARD JEFFERSON: No, and I understand what Chris is saying. Because what he's talking about, his former team, is kind of the exact same thing that I was talking about prior. Where it's narrative-driven. Right? It's storyline-driven. And it's like, oh, well look. At the end of the day, his championships versus Finals appearances. That is the number one thing that is the focus. We don't, you know, yes, we can talk about Dallas. Or we could talk about the Golden State Warriors. Or we can talk about, you know, the San Antonio Spurs. Like, those things are more individual match-ups. And like you said, Jared, he rarely is favored. Because very rarely does he ever show up with the best team. He very rarely shows up with the best team. And Vegas is very, very good at who they favorite and who should be picked. So my thing is this. And we're saying the same thing, kind of. You're talking about the narrative. And I'm saying that his narrative of 10 Finals appearances, If he doesn't win one this year, I think it's less about the Miami Heat and who he lost to. Because I think that will be, like, long when we dissect it. Ultimately, his Finals record is the first thing that people are going to look at. Not necessarily, well he lost to the Spurs. Well, OK, a lot of people lose to the Spurs. Or he lost to the Heat. And it's like, well, they were a good team. And he had been there for six years. And there was really nobody on the roster that was a rotation player. Udonis Haslem is there as almost like a vet-coach at this point in time. And then Pat Riley's, you know, up there just doing what he always does so well. So I agree with you, Chris. Like, he doesn't want to lose to the Miami Heat. But I think that blemish of losing to the Miami Heat will be smaller than the blemish of his overall, let's say, hypothetically, he loses, than to be 3-7.
CHRIS HAYNES: I agree with you there.
RICHARD JEFFERSON: They're going to talk more about the 3-7 than who he lost to, the Heat. But you're right. It is a great story. I agree.