Two years ago today, LeBron James moved into first on the all-time playoff scoring list, passing Michael Jordan. It solidified, for those who didn’t already know, that LeBron is one of the best playoff performers in NBA history. This year, for the first time in over a decade, LeBron missed the playoffs in his first season as a Laker. I, for one, miss watching him play during these months, and the playoffs don’t feel the same way without him.
LeBron did carry a frustrating air of inevitability, the same air which surrounds the Warriors dynasty and the biggest detriment for casual fans watching the playoffs. For the past three years, everyone knew it would be LeBron vs. Golden State in the playoffs. It’s not as fun watching when we already know how it ends. But the journey through which LeBron reached that ending was always fascinating to follow.
Every year, he pushed the limits of what we thought possible when it came to bringing his team as far as he could manage. Last year was the definition of a Herculean effort in the game of basketball, as the King averaged 34 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists while dragging a lackluster Cavs squad to a Finals appearance. He single-handedly annihilated the city of Toronto and won a Game 7 on the road in Boston. Time and time again, it looked like the shortcomings of his supporting cast would prove to be too much. Time and time again, he would pull out one last drive to the hoop, one last ridiculous one-legged runner as he falls out of bounds, to pull his team from the abyss.
Watching one of the two greatest players to play basketball bear that amount of responsibility and come out on top game after game was a special experience. In the moment, it did seem tiring, and that LeBron was doing all this for the privilege of getting blown out in the Finals. But without that experience this year, the playoffs seem lacking. Yes, the Eastern Conference is far more interesting without LeBron. Ultimately, though, the only true obstacle to a team with a claim to greatest of all time is a player with a claim to greatest of all time.
Watching LeBron fight the inevitable tide of the Warriors with everything he had was a treat. Without that, things just aren’t the same.