LeBron James is the most dominant and accomplished small forward to have ever played the game. The King has 4 NBA titles, 4 Finals MVPs, and 4 MVPs to his name along with a resume spanning 18 Hall of Fame seasons. In terms of basketball IQ and all-around play, LeBron also has a case for being the greatest of all time.
Yet, the Lakers are down 2-3 in the first round of the 2021 playoffs against the Phoenix Suns. The Suns were 2nd in the West so they are a great team, but a loaded Lakers with James and Anthony Davis should get the job done. The fact that the Lakers are losing this series is causing a lot of critics to come out of the woodwork with the focus aimed at LeBron James. While James has not had his best series, a first-round exit does not affect his legacy one bit because of some key factors.
LeBron James Is 36 Years Old, He Needs Help
LeBron is not the ripe 29-year old that could win games by himself anymore. This isn't the Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James nor the Miami Heat LeBron James. He is 36 with 18 years worth of pressure and expectations on his shoulders, so he needs help. Anthony Davis missing time in Game 4 and also not playing in Game 5 is enough to give James a pass.
LeBron can't be expected to beat the 2nd seed in the West by himself at this stage of his career. He needs Davis because the big man dominates the offense and plays like the number one option on the team. With LeBron playing a backseat role and picking his spots, this Lakers team without Davis does not work and that is not LeBron's fault.
The Phoenix Suns Are Stacked, And So Is The League Right Now
The Suns are a very strong team, and they had a shot at finishing first in the Western Conference this year. Devin Booker is an offensive All-Star right now and as he develops more, he will be a superstar. Chris Paul has changed the franchise by himself and in terms of leadership, he is on par with LeBron James. Deandre Ayton might be the best player for the Suns this series, as an active big man on both ends of the floor.
This means the Suns are the favorites without Anthony Davis suiting up in Purple and Gold. But looking beyond the Suns, the league is stacked right now. Denver has the MVP of the league in Nikola Jokic, the Jazz had the best team in the regular season, and the Los Angeles Clippers have two superstars in their prime. It is not fair to expect LeBron to compete with these strong teams when the number one scoring option is injured.
LeBron Has Nothing To Prove, He Is The Greatest Small Forward Ever
LeBron James has his legacy cemented. The only thing left for him is to shift his place in the all-time standings. Many people argue that LeBron is the best ever while many others place him somewhere in the top-5. What LeBron James has done since entering the league is unprecedented, because he has played through the most pressure in professional sports for 18 straight years.
LeBron is also the smartest player in NBA history alongside Magic Johnson because he always makes the right basketball play. He can make any pass, sees the floor perfectly, and doesn't mind sharing the wealth. James is also one of the best leaders in NBA history, having carried 4 teams to 4 NBA championships. A measly first-round exit, the first of his career, would not affect the legacy of the most accomplished small forward ever.
His Rival, Michael Jordan, Lost 3 Times In The First Round
The vast majority of NBA fans and pundits believe Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time and the standard for all NBA superstars. While this is the general consensus, LeBron James has challenged Jordan's throne over the past decade. After all, James has been the face of the NBA since he entered the NBA and dominates every game as Jordan did.
When discussing LeBron, Jordan's name always comes up. But even if LeBron doesn't quite match up to Michael Jordan, they are always compared. One thing that isn't brought up is Jordan's playoff failures before he managed to 6-0 in the Finals. Michael Jordan has lost 3 times in the first round, while LeBron James has not lost a single time. If Michael Jordan, the player who is close to perfection, has lost in the first round why does LeBron's legacy get affected by a first-round exit one time in his 18th season? Simple answer, it doesn't.