The 2011 NBA Finals, when LeBron James led a favorited Miami team against Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas, is the black mark on LeBron’s Finals record. His critics like to point out he’s 3-6 in the Finals (soon to be 4-6), but unlike some other players in the GOAT conversation, LeBron has dragged lesser teams that had no business in the Finals to the NBA’s biggest stage, only to run into juggernauts like the Tim Duncan Spurs or the Stephen Curry/Kevin Durant Warriors.
But 2011 was different, LeBron and the Heat lost as a favorite.
The Lakers were favorites again in 2020, however, this LeBron is light years ahead of the one that lost to Dallas, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told Etan Thomas on “The Rematch” podcast (part of BasketballNews.com, which also has the transcript).
“It’s night and day,” Cuban said. “He has the basketball-IQ level now; he’s just a basketball savant. The way he sees and reads what’s happening on the court in real time and stays three steps ahead is incredible. And that’s what makes him special – in addition to his athleticism. He didn’t have that [back in 2011]. We would run a zone against him and he would hesitate and not know what to do. He’s not going to hesitate now. He knows exactly what’s coming and what to do and anticipates it.
“He can talk to you about a basketball game and every single play that’s happened like some of us would talk about a book that we just read. Those two things are enormous differences. He can now beat you in so many different ways. He’s still athletic enough. His skill-set has improved. His passing. But those all tie back to his basketball IQ and that’s something that wasn’t as developed as it is now.”
LeBron may have lost half-a-step from his peak — maybe — but half a step from one of the best athletes the game has ever seen is still good enough to dominate. Plus, he more than makes up for it with his game IQ and decision making. He is the ultimate floor general at this point in his career, but one who can still take over the fourth quarter of games and get a win.
Maybe there is a coming transition for the Lakers, going from LeBron’s team to Anthony Davis‘ team, but right now The King is still the man. He is showing it against the Heat. And Mark Cuban is right, it’s LeBron’s mind, as much as his body, that has him on the precipice of ring number four.