Michael Jordan never beat a team as good as last year’s 73-win Warriors.
He darned sure never beat a team as good as these Warriors, who added Kevin Durant and swept through the Western Conference.
That’s LeBron James‘ challenge now, not even a year removed from leading the Cavaliers over a Golden State team with the best regular-season record in NBA history.
Consider it an opportunity. Consider it an unfair amount of NBA Finals competition.
But LeBron, who has made no secret of his desire to surpass Jordan, once again faces a legacy-defining series as underdog.
This could be framed as a no-lose situation. If the Cavs win, LeBron gets immense credit. If the Cavs lose, LeBron is excused on the grounds it took a stacked deck – Durant joining a core that already featured Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson – to beat him.
It never works that way for LeBron, though. Too many are disinclined to give him any benefit of the doubt.
If Cleveland loses, the talk will be that LeBron can never catch Jordan now – the same thing we do every time LeBron has fallen short of a title for the last nine years.
But if Cleveland wins, LeBron will receive untold praise. He’d be hailed as a legitimate peer to Jordan, debates about the superiority of those two all-time greats kicked into a higher gear then ever.
There’s little room for a measured middle-ground reaction with LeBron. This stage and this highly anticipated matchup – the first trilogy in NBA Finals history – only invites stronger reactions.
LeBron has thrived under this pressure before. He has wilted under it.
He has just never faced a team quite like this Warriors – so hungry to avenge last year’s loss, so determined and so talented. They can throw Durant, Green and Andre Iguodala at him. Golden State’s offense will remain elite with its defensive stoppers on the floor. It’ll be so hard to keep up.
The Cavs can win, but make no mistake: The Warriors are favored for good reason. It’s important to remember that baseline when assessing the results.
And that’s ultimately what will matter – the results.
LeBron keeps lifting himself into these legacy-defining situations. Sometimes, he succeeds. Sometimes, he fails.
But, with his greatness, he always has a chance.