I was sucked in. I swore that I would never let the opinion of Skip Bayless bug me, especially when it came to LeBron James. I wanted to shield myself from it. I don’t watch ESPN First Take and I don’t follow Skip Bayless on Twitter, but when I saw that Skip had written a piece on LeBron James I just had to take a look at the blatant LeBron bashing that was about to unfold. To my surprise, it wasn’t quite as one-sided as I had expected. Skip made some valid and logical points, and to his credit, he half-heartedly admitted he has sometimes been perhaps overly critical of LeBron. Still, this came from someone who most of the general public would agree either A.) Has a personal issue with LeBron, B.) Is overly critical of LeBron James in an attempt to get ratings for ESPN, or C.) Just doesn’t know what he is talking about. I’m not saying which of the three it is, and frankly I don’t care. Skip, a “LeBron hater” got to voice his opinion on the very popular LeBron James/Michael Jordan discussion. It will likely be read by thousands of people. Now it is my turn to not only voice my opinion on the LeBron/MJ debate, but also on Skip Bayless. I am what I suppose you would call a “LeBron lover” in contrast to Skip Bayless. I admit this going in, and like Skip Bayless, I will do my best to keep an open mind on this issue. Skip presented a very interesting argument… I plan on doing the same.
First, let me say that Skip and I do agree on one thing. To compare the legacy of LeBron James to Michael Jordan is foolish and premature. It’s also foolish and premature to compare LeBron’s legacy to the legacies of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, etc. LeBron James is 27 years old and in the midst of only his tenth NBA season. It isn’t fair to compare Kobe Bryant to any of those individuals. It isn’t fair to compare Tim Duncan to any of those individuals. In my eyes, any talk of that magical buzzword “legacy” should be left until after a player is retired and the story of that individuals playing career is finished.
Skip is hypocritical in saying that LeBron James isn’t “in the same solar system with Michael Jordan.” After all, Skip and his counterpart, Stephen A. Smith, are the ones who debate these kind of topics every day. Skip Bayless put LeBron James in the same solar system as Michael Jordan as soon as he said that LeBron wasn’t in that solar system. The way the media shoves the legacy talk down our throats, we as fans become overly critical of the accomplishments and failures of athletes. I’m guilty of it. I’m sure you are guilty of it too. Because of this, there will be no more mention of the word “legacy” on my part in this article. LeBron has a lot of basketball ahead of him. It’s like if you watched all of The Godfather and then the first half of The Shawshank Redemption and tried to compare the two movies. You wouldn’t do that would you? Of course not. It’s nonsensical. And again, I’m not blaming just Skip Bayless for this. Everyone does it. What does that leave me to talk about then? Well luckily, Skip gives me plenty to pick at. Skip states that “what LeBron pulled off after nine long NBA seasons is being laughably overrated.” Hmmm, okay, this looks like a pretty good place to start. Truthfully, I wasn’t completely taken aback when I read this statement in Skip’s article because this is the same man who has been underrating and even mocking LeBron James for years. As the 2012 playoffs were taking shape, LeBron was in the process of doing just about everything he could to eliminate any possible gripes that critics and analysts had in the past… except for one particularly mouthy critic who LeBron will apparently never be able to silence. During Miami’s postseason run Skip was excessively critical of LeBron James, and remains critical in his recent article. I did my work and dug up some YouTube videos that in retrospect actually make Skip look more biased than he did at the time he was actually giving his analysis.
Here I offer three playoff games, LeBron’s stats in those games, and Skip’s reaction on First Take the following day. Click on the link for each game if you want to re-watch Skip’s First Take comments and see what it is like to be able to talk about an issue and have no real concerns whether what you say sounds intelligent or not.
Game Four at Indiana
LeBron’s stats: 40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists, 14-27 field goals, 12-16 free throws
Skip’s Take: Skip gave LeBron an A grade for the grade. High praise coming from the man who over the years has made a habit of calling LeBron “Prince James” and “The Frozen One.” There is one problem with Professor Bayless’ grading curriculum. He gave Dwyane Wade an A+, who came alive in game four for 30 points after an absolutely horrendous six-quarter stretch of basketball. Skip credited Wade for making all of the big shots in the game, and scoring 22 points in the 2nd half. Very hard to argue with all of that. In this instance, it isn’t so much what Skip said but what he managed not to say. Skip was quick with the stat that Wade had 22 points in the 2nd half, but swiftly brushing aside Stephen A. Smith’s comment that LeBron had 21 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists in the 2nd half. Skip also forgets—well, actually neglects to mention that statistically LeBron did something that had only been done once before in NBA playoff history (by Elgin Baylor 51 years earlier).
Game Six at Boston: Part One & Part Two
LeBron’s stats: 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 19-26 field goals, 5-9 free throws
Skip’s Take: This one just baffles me. I’ve watched nearly every meaningful game LeBron James has played over the last decade, and I can honestly say this was the most nervous I’d ever been. There is no way any athlete alive has ever felt that kind of pressure that LeBron felt in this game. This was a game six on the road after dropping 3 straight games to the rival Celtics. Don’t just take my word for it. Take the word of one of the most knowledgeable basketball experts in the world. Someone whose opinion I respect much more than Skip Bayless. And someone who was also hoping LeBron James would be on the losing end of game six.
You can’t imagine what this was like to witness in person. I know Michael Jordan had similarly astonishing games, and others, too, but not with stakes like that. This wasn’t just an elimination game. This was LeBron James’s entire career being put on trial … and it only took an hour for him to tell the jury, “Go home. I’m one of the best players ever. Stop picking me apart. Stop talking about the things I can’t do. Stop holding me to standards that have never been applied to any other NBA player. Stop blaming me for an admittedly dumb decision I never should have made. Stop saying I’m weak. Stop saying that I don’t want to win. Stop. Just … stop.”
Those were the words of ESPN’s Bill Simmons, the author of a 700-plus page Book of Basketball. Contrarily, the next day on First Take Skip Bayless said “Last night was the least pressure that has ever been on LeBron James in a playoff game” and even tried to argue that what LeBron did the previous night wasn’t clutch because he didn’t take over in the 4th quarter. That’s like saying Michael Jordan shouldn’t get so much credit for game one of the 1992 NBA Finals because he didn’t take over the 4th quarter. Maybe Skip just didn’t watch the game. I’ll try to give him a quick rundown in an attempt to explain why LeBron didn’t take over in the 4th quarter. LeBron had won the game already. The 4th quarter was irrelevant. The Celtics were done. The Boston crowd was done. And even though we didn’t know it yet, the NBA Playoffs were done. Is my explanation not good enough? Once again, let me hand this one over to Bill Simmons.
He single-handedly murdered one of the giddiest Celtics crowds I can remember. Thirty points in the first half. Thirty! All with that blank look on his face. It was like watching surveillance video of a serial killer coldly dismembering a body and sticking the parts in the fridge. Only we were right there.
Game Five vs. Oklahoma City
LeBron’s stats: 26 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists, 9-19 field goals, 8-9 free throws
Skip’s Take: After an historic postseason run that was capped off with a triple double in game five, Skip Bayless still had the idiotic nerve to say that LeBron James didn’t have the clutch gene. I’m tired of doing this, but I will summarize LeBron’s postseason one more effing time for the learning impaired Skip Bayless.
Throughout the playoffs, LeBron averaged 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 50% shooting. For stat geeks, these are numbers than nobody has ever put up in a postseason. For historians, LeBron had six legitimately memorable games. Game four at Indiana, game six at Boston, game seven vs. Boston, game two at Oklahoma City, game four vs. Oklahoma City, game five vs. Oklahoma City.Skip pointed out all of the help that LeBron got throughout the Finals:
Shane Battier, who made 62 3-pointers in 65 regular-season games, hit five 3s in Game 2! Dwyane Wade, fighting a bad knee and a worse custody battle, scored 25 in Game 3 as the Miami stage proved too big for the self-destructing young Thunder! Mario Chalmers — MARIO CHALMERS — scored 25 in Game 4, including 12 in the fourth quarter! And 6-foot-8 Mike Miller, who measured 5-8 because he was so hunched over with back pain, hit 7 of 8 3s in the closeout Game 5!
Since he likes to compare LeBron to Michael Jordan (oh wait, Skip hates that, yet he continually makes those comparisons), let’s take a look at the help Jordan had in the Finals. In the deciding games of the 1993 and 1997 NBA Finals it wasn’t Michael Jordan who made the game winning shots. Those honors belong to John Paxson and Steve Kerr respectively. Would anyone argue that because Michael Jordan didn’t take those shots he wasn’t clutch, or was afraid to have the ball in his hands late? That would be heresy. What about how in game six of the 1996 NBA Finals Michael Jordan went 5 for 19 from the field. Skip wouldn’t even acknowledge that LeBron played great when he put together a triple double in the title clinching game. Imagine what he’d be saying if LeBron went 5 for 19. Holy crap, he’d probably suggest we start burning LeBron jersey’s in the street again. In the game five of the 1991 NBA Finals Scottie Pippen had 32 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists as the Bulls closed out the Lakers. Good thing Michael had Scottie, Paxson, Kerr, or else he might’ve never gotten those six rings.
You see, I’m being partly sarcastic. I realize that every great player needs at least a little bit of teammate help. Skip Bayless is dead serious, and also completely ignorant. But that is beside the point.
Coming from such a big LeBron fan, maybe my argument doesn’t pack the kind of punch that it would if someone a little less biased was presenting it. But I am more that capable of admitting that there have been some shaky moments in the career of LeBron James. Was he spectacular in his first NBA Finals appearance in 2007 against San Antonio? No, far from it. After he spoiled us with an all-time great game 5 at Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals, was mediocre in the Finals. You could see that LeBron was overmatched by a superior team, hindered by a historically crappy supporting cast, and not totally ready to win an NBA Championship.
In 2009 LeBron and the Cavaliers won 66 games in the regular season but fell short in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic. Skip Bayless likes to imagine that in that series LeBron disappeared. Yeah, that was the quietest 38 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game I’ve ever seen. Come on Skip, open your eyes. You are only seeing what you want to see. Sure, LeBron and the Cavs fell short of expectations but what more could LeBron have done?
The only legitimate gripes Skip could have against LeBron is the 2010 Eastern Conference semi-finals against Boston, where LeBron really did disappear in game five, and then the 2011 NBA Finals where LeBron transformed from the Chosen One to the Frozen One. Skip saw that. Everyone saw that. I saw that. And I can admit it and say that LeBron did not perform like someone who should be compared to Michael Jordan. As Skip stated, it was the biggest superstar collapse in history. Agreed Skip.
In his article, Skip put more emphasis on Daniel Gibson’s explosion in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals and LeBron falling short in the Finals than he did LeBron’s 48 point game five. The only specifics he gives of that game was LeBron air-balling a potential game winner in the first overtime. He neglects to mention the fact that LeBron scored 29 of Cleveland’s last 30 points in the 4thquarter and the two overtimes. He also forgets to mention the game tying dunk in regulation and game winning lay-up in double overtime. Not clutch enough for Skip must be. Or maybe Skip, on his imaginary Planet LeBr-Honesty, only wants to look at one side of things.
Skip would never talk about the way LeBron turned the Cavaliers franchise around. He would only talk about how he tore it down. He would never talk about the three MVP’s LeBron has won and leave it at that. He would only talk about how no three-time MVP has been as disappointing as LeBron. He would never mention the four straight first-team defenses LeBron has been named to. He would rather talk about the clutch gene and how Carmelo Anthony has it and LeBron doesn’t. Carmelo Anthony, someone who has been out of the first round of the playoffs exactly once in his 9 year career. And Skip wants to criticize LeBron for only having one ring.The most impactful part of Skip’s article comes when he talks about the reaction after the Heat won the NBA title.
Yet in the days that followed, all I heard from fans, debate foes, players and ex-players was: “You were wrong about LeBron.” Heck, I even heard from many Cavs fans who suddenly had forgiven and forgotten.
That’s when the entire basketball world began to suffer selective, collective amnesia. It was as if LeBron had been LeBorn Again as the Next Jordan. Now he was Beyond Criticism.
I don’t ask that Skip stops being critical of LeBron, or any athlete for that matter. That’s his shtick. Nobody suffered selective, collective amnesia Skip. We are all just living on planet earth where it is acceptable to recognize the failures AND successes of athletes. Skip showed glimpses of objectivity. Reading his article provided momentary breaths of fresh air. It was nice to see that Skip could actually acknowledge some of the good things that LeBron has done over his career. I’m not used to that. For this I will give Skip a very condescending round of applause just like he did with LeBron after he won his first championship. Good job Mr. Bayless! Maybe you are finally coming around. If you want to join the rest of us on planet earth, you’re more than welcome. But if you want to remain on Planet LeBr-Honesty and come off as bitter, spiteful and uneducated, feel free.