LeBron James has been to eight NBA Finals, and while he is the best player of his generation when his career is over the most illogical of his season-ending losses will always be when the soft German who never could did what the King never will.
LeBron is the best player since Michael Jordan and for two fun weeks in 2011 Dirk Nowitzki was the best player in the world who defeated the King with nobody around him. For all of his achievements, LeBron was never able to do this.
We know that now. And we can add Kevin Durant, who once reached the Finals with James Harden and Russell Westbrook as teammates, to the list of guys who could get close but were not quite able to defeat them all without the necessary toys next to them.
An NBA season without suspense came to its predictable conclusion with the Golden State Warriors defeating The King, Kyrie and Kevin in Game 5 of the NBA Finals for their second title in the last three years.
The 2015 NBA champs, who followed that with a 73-win season in ‘16, added Kevin Durant in the offseason, which was the only way to defeat LeBron and Kyrie Irving.
It took him 10 years, but KD won his first NBA title and was also the Finals MVP. He’s a wonderful pro, person and steward for the game, but there is an emptiness to this achievement whereas there was none for Dirk. There is no easy way to win an NBA title for a generational player, but KD’s path is close.
Since 1984, no league has put parity in the trash more than the NBA; there have been only nine different franchises to win titles in that span. Two have won fewer than two — the Mavericks and the Cavaliers.
It took injuries to major players, and an all-time team, to prevent the LeBron and Cavs from winning multiple championships.
And in reviewing LeBron’s five NBA Finals defeats, the one that is the most telling and inspiring is Dirk’s because no one won more with less than The Big German.
2007: Spurs 4-0 over LeBron and ... the list of his teammates is too embarrassing to write. Let’s just say the list includes Drew Gooden. Jordan could not have carried a roster like this to the Finals.
2011: Mavs 4-2 over LeBron and Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh. The Heat successfully stunk it up and cleared out the necessary cap space to acquire Bosh and LeBron in the previous offseason for the Super Friends team. Udonis Haslem was not a bum. More on this in a moment.
2014: Spurs 4-1 over LeBron, Wade and Bosh. Because they are the Spurs, where anonymity is a virtue, this team will not receive first-ballot chatter as an all-time dynasty when it merits discussion. The Spurs had Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. That quartet undressed LeBron in what will remain his most embarrassing NBA Finals performance.
2015: Warriors 4-2 over LeBron and the Role Players. In the previous offseason, LBJ returned home and with him arrived Kevin Love to a roster that had Kyrie Irving. But Love was knocked out of the playoffs early, and Irving was gone with an injury in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. How the Cavs won two games against that Warriors team is a testament to LeBron’s ability.
2017: Warriors 4-1 over LeBron, Kyrie, Kevin. The Warriors will one day be mentioned as one of the best teams ever. LeBron James averaged a triple double in a series that wasn’t close.
Whatever you want to say about LeBron, the man led teams to seven consecutive NBA Finals in the modern era. No one else could do this. Would Michael Jordan have made eight had he not briefly retired? No.
We choose to forget that when Jordan came back from his baseball-induced coma in 1995 the Bulls were eliminated in the playoffs in the second round by Orlando. The man was human.
LeBron’s three NBA titles all had dominant helpers, from Wade, Ray Allen to Kyrie and Love. Most NBA title winners, but not necessarily all, feature a No. 2 and perhaps a 2-and-a-half player that are either All-Stars or close to it.
Yes, Jason Kidd will be a Hall of Famer but by the 2011 season he was a 37-year-old point guard who no longer could penetrate and do some of the things that made him an All-Star. He was still a brilliant ball handler and passer, but he was a limited defender and as an offensive player he averaged 7.9 points per game in the regular season.
Dirk’s main source of help came from Jason Terry, who in the 2011 playoffs was brilliant but whose career will be known for his kindness, streaky shot, and durability. He’s not a Hall of Famer.
Neither is Tyson Chandler, nor Shawn Marion, Brian Cardinal, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson or anyone else on that team. They all helped, but Dirk scored for them, and carried them, to a title.
Nothing should dissuade anyone from the belief that LeBron James is not the best player of his generation, but Dirk got ‘em once and in the process did one thing the King could not in carrying an inferior team over a superior roster to an NBA title.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof