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LeBron may not worry about legacy talk, but a lot on line for him, Duncan in Finals

Jun 5, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT

SAN ANTONIO — When LeBron James retires someday he will go down as one of the greats to ever play the game. Exactly where in that pantheon, where on that scale he lands remains to be seen. He can call the talk of his ultimately legacy “kind of stupid” as he did Wednesday, but the fact remains that’s kind of where his career is at right now — he is in legacy building mode. Whether he wants to admit it or not.

Whenever this Spurs era ends — and no matter the outcome of these NBA Finals that start Thursday night in San Antonio — this franchise’s legacy is going to be set as one of the best teams in the post-Jordan era. It has sustained excellence spanning three decades now, from the late 1990s to today. We will call it the Tim Duncan era but it will be more than that, it will be David Robinson and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and most of all Gregg Popovich.

They may not want to talk about it, but both of the participants in the 2014 NBA Finals in some way have secured a powerful legacy.

And yet both have a lot on the line with their legacy in this series. Particularly LeBron.

Which is part of what makes these Finals so compelling. This is more than just another rematch, there is more than just pride and another ring on the line for these guys.

Especially LeBron — the stakes are highest for his legacy. Whether he cares about it or not.

Win and LeBron will have led a team to a three-peat, something Jordan did, something Shaq and Kobe Bryant did, but not something legends like Magic Johnson or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Wilt Chamberlain or Larry Bird ever did. Fair or not, Jordan is the bar LeBron is compared to now. Win this title and LeBron will have led an aging, declining team to a third straight title — past the immortal Duncan (twice), past Kevin Durant, past every peer he faced at his peak. That is how legends and legacies are made.

Lose, however, and LeBron is 2-3 in Finals and suddenly it’s a long road to Jordan’s 6-0 Finals record. LeBron will have been felled by Dirk Nowitzki and Duncan — two legendary players, but if you are an icon those are the titles you are supposed to win. Because that’s what we saw Jordan do. Again the standard may not be fair, but that’s where the bar has been set.

Lose and LeBron will someday go down as maybe the greatest physical specimen ever to play the game, but there will be questions about how much he got out of that talent. Doesn’t matter if he thinks that is fair, doesn’t matter how many MVPs he has or who the teammates were around him.

He may say that this kind of talk is stupid as he is 29 years old, but this is the same guy who has said in the past he wants to be on the NBA Mount Rushmore, that he is driven to become the greatest NBA player of all time. Remember he called his key jumper late in Game 7 of the Finals last year his “MJ moment.” He cares about his legacy, about how he will ultimately be remembered. And with that there is a lot on the line in these Finals.

Tim Duncan will go down as the greatest power forward ever when he steps away from the game sometime in the next few years. That is secured. We will debate him vs. Karl Malone on the pantheon, or whomever else you wish to put at the four spot, but Duncan has secured that place in the conversation.

However, win a fifth title and he will have done something more.

Win and these Spurs can lay claim with their sustained 15 years of excellence to the “greatest team in the post-Jordan era” title. It’s them and the Lakers, who have five titles to the Spurs four right now. If San Antonio gets a fifth — spread 15 years apart, where they won 50 games or more every one of those seasons (save for the lockout year there were just 50 games) — and they rightfully can try to snatch that mantle away from Kobe. You may say that the title still belongs to the Lakers (this is essentially a bar stool debate anyway) but the fact is the Spurs deserve to be respected and part of that conversation.

A win helps cement the Tim Duncan era as one of the great runs in the history of the NBA. It bookends it with 1999. It brings it into a new era and shows that ball movement, cutting off the ball, and just playing smart, playing fundamentally sound basketball will always be able to win. Even if you’re no longer the most athletic of teams.

That’s a huge legacy.

As it would be for LeBron if he wins.

The players, trying to focus straight ahead on the games may find the talk “stupid” but for both the 2014 NBA Finals is about their ultimate legacies.

  1. packergator - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    You’re absolutely right – that he’s compared only to MJ is totally unfair. Nobody crushes Bird or Magic because they didn’t live up to the MJ standard and go undefeated in the Finals; their legacies are secure. Why do so many people want to crush him in spite of everything he’s done so far in his NBA career?

    • cruzan80 - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:44 AM

      MJ’s dominance came after Magic & Bird’s dominance. How can they live up to something that hadn’t happen yet??? The “Decision” is the reason why LBJ gets killed by everyone outside of Miami. It was the wrong way to go about doing it & he admitted to this himself

      He made this bed…there’s nothing “unfair” going on here.

      • buffalowned - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:56 AM

        Most rational fans have gotten over that

      • cruzan80 - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:10 AM


        Most fans are not rational….

      • nflcrimerankingscom - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:16 AM

        Worst thing was quitting on his team in Cleveland.

      • buffalowned - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:25 AM

        I’m curious how did he quit? By posting a triple double in his final game with the Cavs? Or by leaving a horrible team and organization that has gone on to pick 1st overall 3 times and 5 times in the top 4 since he left. If you think making a personal decision as a free agent to go to a better situation is quitting, then there are a lot of quitters in nba history.

      • davidly - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:26 AM

        Rational fan is a contradiction in terms, literally — I’m not just blowing smoke. The extent to which someone becomes a fan is directly proportional to that person’s irrationality.

  2. rodyaugu - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    At the end of this series Frank Vogel’s comments will be justified, when he said his team was playing the MJ of our time, and the bulls of our time.

  3. aboogy123456 - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    I hate all this legacy talk when comparing great players. Lebron is an all-time great whether he wins another championship or not. It’s a team game, and simple fans point to team stats to justify which players are better than others. Lebron probably could have won it all in Cleveland, maybe not as many as in Miami, but I don’t think that makes him better or worse as a player. If Carmelo goes to the Heat and they win the next 5 championships does that make Lebron a better player? No, he will just have a better supporting cast.

  4. golfrangeman - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:36 AM

    @cruzan80 the decision is well in the past for everyone except the haters. The feelings you have toward it are fine but there not the same as virtually all sport media and so called experts. Rational intelligent people have dismissed that long ago.

  5. dolphindubs - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:14 AM


    Most haters are not rational either…

    • cruzan80 - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      Ahhhh….the “You don’t root for the same team that I do so you’re a hater!” comment.

      Now there’s some “rational” for ya right there!

  6. goldmember21 - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    Cleveland in 6

  7. golfrangeman - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    Quitting !! Are u serious? He gave 7 great years to an organization that surrounded him with nothing. They went from best record in the league to rock bottom. He fulfilled his contract and made the best decision of his career.
    Let’s think of some other stars that “quit” on their teams MJ, Kareem,wilt, scottie Pippen, Malone, Gary Payton just to name a few.

    • fanofthegame79 - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:07 PM

      Great points! Not only did he fulfill his contract with the Cavs, he re-signed with them after his rookie contract expired. So he actually fulfilled 2 contracts with the Cavs.

  8. reesesteel23 - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    Lebron is focusing on nothing less than….”…not 7 not 8″..That and that alone is the only way he can make millions and millions of people eat crow. If he wins 7 people will say…”what happened to not 8″….

  9. davidly - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    He’d’ve not donned 23 had he not been looking up to him. His move to Miami was all about acquiring what he had. He knew he needed his own Pip and an organization that would be capable to surround him with the right little pieces. Begrudging hats off to the Heat so far. It is remarkable how much greater a role player looks when he’s playing with the best. LBJ’s legacy, however, will hinge more definitively upon what he does post 2014, than this year.

  10. mcfleezy12 - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    Lakers 3peated, Spurs have never won back to back so……..It’s still the lakers Era to claim. Oh yeah 7 Final apearances too.

  11. golfrangeman - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    @cruzan80 it’s not about what team you root for it’s about rooting for a team not just rooting against a team. Fans root for something haters root against. So if your a fan who’s your team?

  12. jzone954 - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    Lebron never forced his way out of Cleveland like Melo did. And find it funny how KG is all mad with Ray Allen joining Miami even though after that last season and playoff series Lebron with the cavs, after the game it was K freaking G who whispered to Lebron while giving him a high saying “you gotta do what you gotta do” . As far as the whole MJ comparison I think we all agree the two are different players in different eras, it’s the fanbases then the media that run with it. But I don’t have respect for these old timers who always have to say something. Lebron can’t have an MVP season without MJ releasing a quote on how “he would defend Lebron”. This finals has so much attached to it. From the spurs going for 5 to Miami trying to 3 peat, to the number of hall of famers in this game and the whole redemption theme from last year, and then… guessed it, an old school bulls player has to release there statement in the midst of this greatness on how the bulls and MJ would own the Heat and the NBA. Why? Why does every old school player feel the need to chime in now ?

  13. bougin89 - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:42 PM

    Doesn’t this particular series mean much more to Duncan? Sadly, as the NBA will be worse when Duncan retires, this may just be his last chance at a ring.

    Lebron on the other hand isn’t going anywhere. He’s still going to be the best player in the NBA for a while. He’ll have plenty more chances at getting another ring.

  14. loungefly74 - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    Lebron is the most gifted basketball athlete ever…but his legacy will never be big as MJ.

  15. udleerc - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:28 PM

    Cleveland in 6 what?? 6 years??

  16. sportsfan18 - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    LBJ Cares deeply about his legacy…

    We know it…

    He knows it…

    But he can’t come out and say it…

    • buffalowned - Jun 5, 2014 at 4:25 PM

      He’s said it many times…he wants to be the greatest of all time. But he’s not gonna talk about legacies when his focus is on the Spurs, which is where it should be.

  17. ProBasketballPundit - Jun 5, 2014 at 3:28 PM

    Tim Duncan isn’t a power forward. Never was. The Spurs played two centers.

  18. antistratfordian - Jun 5, 2014 at 4:54 PM

    I don’t know if there is that much is on the line here. Both Duncan and LeBron have accomplished more in one lifetime than the average hall of famer would accomplish in four.

    So the loser in this series shouldn’t suffer too much, and should still be favored to come back again next year as long as their teams stay together.

  19. elcaminobilly - Jun 5, 2014 at 6:25 PM

    Whoever wins, whoever loses in these finals…it’s not going to affect their legacies. Both Duncan and LeBron already have cemented themselves as two of the greatest players to ever take the court. To imply that losing one Finals- especially this one, where they face each other- will dampen their legacy is rather absurd. Nothing will make their legacy any less than what it already is.

  20. cwilson6843 - Jun 5, 2014 at 6:26 PM

    If LeBron quit on the Cavs he would have demanded a trade in the middle of the season. Mj played baseball and played for the wizards. Malone went to the lakers. Barkley went to Phoenix. How many teams did wilt play for? Didn’t kobe threaten to leave the Lakers? Yea but its only wrong for LeBron to make a better situation for himself. Unlike the bulls or lakers, the cavs didn’t have a hof coach named Phil Jackson to make sure LeBron had the pieces necessary to win in a TEAM sport

  21. iangas33 - Jun 5, 2014 at 7:32 PM

    Who writes these?!?!?
    Despite any confrontational discussion.
    Disclaimer: I am a heat fan, but I didn’t realize that 20 some odd years is equal to 3 decades.
    STOP EXAGGERATING it’s annoying. Don’t turn this into “I’ll say what I think” articles


  22. glen907 - Jun 6, 2014 at 1:09 AM

    If LeBron quit on the Cavs he would have demanded a trade in the middle of the season. Mj played baseball and played for the wizards. Malone went to the lakers. Barkley went to Phoenix. How many teams did wilt play for? Didn’t kobe threaten to leave the Lakers? Yea but its only wrong for LeBron to make a better situation for himself. Unlike the bulls or lakers, the cavs didn’t have a hof coach named Phil Jackson to make sure LeBron had the pieces necessary to win in a TEAM sport

    first off MJ left after first winning 3 championships for his team not the same as LBJ, malone played from 1985 -2003 for the jazz before he went ring chasing in his last season in the league not the same as a player in his prime leaving their team, barkley again was traded to the suns he was not a free agent, wilt played for 2 teams and kobe never left so explain how those 2 are relevant to this. LBJ catches flak because he is the first player to win the MVP and play on the team with the best record in the league to leave his team while in his prime to go and play with 2 other all NBA players. like it or not the decision is on his legacy, he’s certainly one of the best to ever lace them up no doubt but whenever he gets compared to other all timers you just look at this run from the heat differently than other championship teams.

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