LeBron is Just Like Larry Bird, Without the Afro


LeBron is just like Larry, without the afro. (Photos: Larry Brown Sports)

While failing all of humanity, LeBron James has somehow managed to post a broad array of impressive stats during the 2013 NBA Finals, with a versatility not seen since a white guy from Indiana ruled Boston’s parquet, sporting a blonde perm and a mustache.

The Miami Heat trail the San Antonio Spurs 3-2, after Sunday’s surprising twist in Texas during Game 5 left those who witnessed the defending NBA champs run rampant during the regular season searching for answers, and pointing accusatory fingers at that wrinkled brow beneath the headband.

LeBron is the face of America’s National Basketball Association, a face not quite as handsome as those before him, yet another reason he’s denied the warm and fuzzy embrace of the masses, others include his lamentable leanings toward a brand of basketball which doesn’t cut cookies in shapes we are accustomed to eating.

All six players among the “big three” for either team are averaging fewer points during these Finals than they did during the regular season (leaving Danny Green just one Gregg Popovich coaching clinic away from the most unlikely Finals MVP in NBA history), but if you’ve been paying any attention whatsoever, one superstar in particular has claimed the title of “America’s chief choke artist”.

Just how bad has LeBron been?

On Saturday I took a look at how LeBron had been excluded from Finals MVP consideration after two games by Bill Simmons, and slighted by Jeff Van Gundy during Finals TV coverage.

Watching Game 5’s post game, where reporters pelted the man mountain, and reigning MVP, with questions insinuating that he should apologize for having ever been born, I had the novel idea of running LBJ’s numbers after five games, and ogling his statistical shortcomings.

LeBron is averaging 21.6 ppg, 10.8 rebs, 6.8 ast, 2.2 stl, and 1.0 blk on 43.6 fg% over the first five games of the NBA Finals. No one in this year’s Finals has posted similar stats.

In fact, no player in the NBA averaged 20 pts and 10 rebounds during the 2012-13 regular season, and only three players other than LeBron averaged 20 ppg and over six assists: Steph Curry (22.9 ppg, 6.9 apg), Russell Westbrook (23.2 ppg, 7.2 apg), and Tony Parker (20.3 pts, 7.6 apg), with Westbrook’s 5.2 rebs the highest of these three.

Jun 13, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the third quarter of game four of the 2013 NBA Finals at the AT

LeBron’s shooting is the one glaring eyesore among his statistics in the Finals, however, Westbrook is one of three All-NBA selections that shot under 44 pct, named 2nd team while shooting 43.8 pct. James Harden, at 43.8 pct, and Paul George, at 41.9 pct, both earned 3rd team.

With none of his contemporaries stuffing the stat sheet like “LeBrick”, we’re forced to travel back in time, so why not compare him to the most complete player ever (even if he’s bound to fail, again)?

Bleacher Report’s “The 20 Most Complete Players in NBA History” named LeBron sixth, Michael Jordan fifth, Jason Kidd fourth, Magic Johnson third and Oscar Roberton, who once averaged a triple double for a whole season, was second, with Larry Bird offered the subjective honor of “most complete basketball player ever”, to the delight of Simmons, who grew up idolizing Bird as a Celtic fan.

Here are LBJ’s 2013 MVP regular season stats, his 2013 Finals numbers after five games, and what an average game played by the greatest small forward ever looked like.

LBJ MVP :      26.0 pts, 56.5 pct, 8.0 reb, 7.3 ast, 1.7 stl, 0.9 blk, 3.0 tov

LBJ Finals:     21.6 pts, 43.6 pct, 10.8 reb, 6.8 ast,  2.2 stl, 1 blk, 2.0 tov

Bird Career :   24.3 pts, 49.6 pct, 10.0 reb, 6.3 ast,  1.7 stl, 0.8 blk, 3.1 tov

Bird scores 2.7 more ppg and shoots much better, but Finals LeBron grabs more rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and has less turnovers than Larry Legend.

“Doing a whole lot of everything” was once the ideal, instead of a polite way to say you never led the league in scoring, which Bird in fact never did. James has led the league in scoring just once, while Larry led the league in FT% several times, but neither of them ever led the NBA in rebounding, assists, blocks, or steals.

LBJ is somehow playing well below his own standard while offering basketball purists the type of versatility that can no longer be found (like tight short shorts). Larry or Magic was all anyone with a ball in their hand wanted to be in the eighties before Mike came along and “fixed” our wrong thinking. (I mean versatility’s fine and all, just make sure you drop 30 in spectacular fashion while you’re at it.)

What does it all mean?

I’m not a fan of either the Heat or the Spurs, but it appeals to me that the world’s best hoop player can do several things better than drop buckets, and I am partial to 6’9” point guards who can leap small buildings.

And, it genuinely does bother me that we can no longer embrace players until they “claim the responsibility” of being scoring-centric, and taking the final shot, preferably with three defenders draped all over them. Bird took many final shots, but he usually did so by running action off several (great) players instead of yo-yoing side to side for a fade away, and “the Hick from French Lick” would punish you with the perfect pass if you chose wrong, as will LeBron James.

Basketball evolved down the years, and prior to His Airness the greatest player on two feet was always slightly, or vastly, different from the version which came before, and for the most part, whether liked or disliked, that player wasn’t bombarded with the notion there’s only one way to play – and that’s by imitating an icon who took his last meaningful shot 15 years earlier.

During ESPN’s post game after Game 5 (in which the Celtics didn’t play), the word Celtic was used five times in six minutes, initiated by Simmons, while a certain scrub from Akron, Ohio was not mentioned once.

Bill Simmons (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

I find it funny, ironic, and sad, that Bill Simmons is living a dream by offering his opinions during the NBA Finals, and he doesn’t even realize the man he spent his life idolizing is alive this June, reborn before his very eyes — tattooed, black, and a tad bit more athletic — this version of Larry Legend is lucky enough to have Bill chirping in his ear, eager to inform his hero about how he’s doing it all wrong.

LeBron James has already proven he’s far too human to ever Be Like Mike, and he may very well suffer an(other) embarrassing exit from the Finals on Tuesday night in Miami, falling short for the third time in his four NBA Finals, but we should at least marvel at what this man can do before allowing the vultures circling his anticipated demise to have their way with what’s left of his carcass.

At least I think so.