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Hayden Goethe, Published June 08 2011

Goethe: LeBron James and the cost of a championship

I’ve worked quite a few nights during the NBA Finals, so I’ll open by saying that I haven’t watched every single minute of the series. I was off on Sunday night and watched Game 3 in its entirety, and I kept an eye on things Tuesday night as well while plugging away at my desk.

Win or lose, I can’t seem to stop thinking about LeBron James. Everyone – and I mean everyone – knows how he got here. He was drafted No. 1 overall by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers a few years back. He did pretty amazing things with a pretty ordinary supporting cast, going so far as taking Cleveland to the NBA Finals.

I remember thinking that James during that year’s Eastern Conference finals played as well as any player I had ever seen. In all my years as a sports fan, I can’t imagine any player had a better handful of games than that. It’s certainly been matched. No doubt about that. But I didn’t think anyone could have played better than him right then and there.

Fast forward to this NBA Finals. James in his first year with the Miami Heat, and not surprisingly the Heat are where they are. The roster is loaded with stars like James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The trio of stars has drawn quite a bit of scorn for joining forces the way they did. But when you really think about, to some degree, James’ “Decision” could be viewed as a selfless act. I mean, he wants to win a title, and he’s willing to sacrifice individual stats to play on a talented team. That’s admirable, isn’t it?

But as I’ve watched these last two games – in particular, the fourth quarters – I think about what James has given up to join this group of stars. On Sunday night, there were possessions that he didn’t touch the ball. On Tuesday night, he scored just eight points and attempted just 11 shots.

This guy was groomed to be a legend. His high school games were broadcast on ESPN/ESPN2 at a time when that just wasn’t happening. And not long after literally carrying the Cavs year after year, here’s James, standing in the corner watching Wade try to make plays late in a game.

By no means is that a surprise. When there are two studs on a team like that, late in games if one is a point guard, he’s going to have the ball a lot more. But that’s my point.

From when he was a teenager, James looked like he would be one of the all-time greats. And even though they didn’t win it all in Cleveland, I always felt eventually he would win one no matter where he went, and that would cement his legendary status. But now I don’t think a title would do that.

I still think James is one of the best players in the NBA if not the best. But there’s a big difference between talent and greatness. And as long as James has this talented of a supporting cast around him, I just don’t see how he can ever be considered among the players in that upper echelon of greatness.