top of page

We Need to Talk about LeBron James’ Legacy

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

Bad Men, Bad Takes – Season 1

You’ve probably clicked on this article expecting to read an analysis of why LeBron has passed Michael Jordan in my calculations as the greatest of all time when it comes to basketball. If that’s the case, you’d be wrong.

If you’ve clicked on this article expecting to see me argue why Jordan is still the GOAT and LeBron remains a rung short of the top of that ladder, you’d be right. Well, at least in part. The truth is recent events have compelled me to write about LeBron’s legacy as it relates to his final resting place in the pantheon of all-time greats, and it might not focus on the things you would think.

You see, LeBron James is undoubtedly talented, and arguably more so than anyone else to play the game. He’s a better playmaker than Jordan. A better rebounder than Kobe. He’ll also become a better scorer (at least in terms of historic numbers) than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – or anyone else for that matter when his career is said and done. What James’ legacy fails to show, what his career numbers will never give information on and what people who have lived through his over two-decade tenure in the league will never mention when it’s all said and done though, is this: He gave up on his teams.

James is a pouter. A man who will metaphorically throw the toys out of the crib when things don’t go his way. He’s doing it now with the Lakers and he’s done it before in Cleveland. Now, recent comments from James at All-Star Weekend make his dis-satisfaction with the Lakers front office easy for all to see, but this goes beyond a war of words with the franchise and it’s fans. This manifests itself on the court in extremely subtle ways.

LeBron James still racks up stats, but when he’s not happy, he will show it subtly on the court. Credit: Sportskeeda

James remains a walking triple double. That’s a fact I’m certain everyone agrees with, regardless of which side of the James v Jordan debate you reside on. The stats he routinely racks up however, while testament to my earlier comment that he may be the most talented to ever play the game, hide the lack of genuine impact he has had on the court for LA this season. This is particularly relevant when we look at LeBron’s play in recent weeks.

To illustrate my point, we need to first put to one side a large portion of the weight fans and analysts place on traditional stats – such as points, rebounds and assists etc – and focus on the only statistic that takes into account everything a player does on the court, including those that don’t show up on the box score – plus/minus. Now some don’t like this metric and I’ll readily admit it has its flaws, however there is no category in the box score for things like missed defensive assignments, not getting back on transition after a miss and a whole raft of other behaviours on a basketball court. These are things the plus/minus metric at least attempts to factor in when grading a players performance.

As mentioned, James’ pouting reveals itself in subtle ways on the court. By comparing his overall impact in games before it was revealed the Lakers were not making any moves, to games after it was announced, we can see the difference. His true on-court impact severely diminished despite his box scores looking more or less the same.

During the six games James suited up in prior to the announcement (spanning a time from January 17-February 5), he averaged 29.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists a contest with 1.7 steals. His plus/minus across that period was above the NBA average of 0.0, coming in at +1.7. Since news broke 48-72 hours prior to the deadline that the Lakers were not able to convert any combination of Westbrook, Horton-Tucker and a 2027 first-round pick into anything to shake up the roster, James’ play changed dramatically. He still logs great numbers, averaging 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists a night with 1.3 steals, but his plus/minus has crumbled to an average of -10.0 per game.

James has been quick to pout and put in minimal effort in some facets of his game following the Lakers failing to upgrade their roster at the deadline this season. Credit: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images.

This is not an isolated moment in time, either. LeBron similarly pouted around the deadline during the 2017/2018 season in Cleveland. The result in that case was that the Cavaliers literally blew up their entire roster at LeBron’s request after the team lost 13 of their 20 games leading up to the deadline. The franchise traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, and their own 2018 first-round pick in exchange for George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson.

To use the same exercise again, let’s look at LeBron’s stats and true on-court impact in the weeks before and after the trade. For the six games before, James averaged 23.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 1.0 steals per contest with an average plus/minus of -4.0. In the six games after the entire team was rebuilt at his request, he averaged 27.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.8 assists and 0.8 steals with an average plus/minus of +5.7.

There is a clear pattern here – James will pout until he gets what he wants. For the heavy majority of his career, teams have been willing to cater to him too, due to his talent. For all of the criticism I’ve given the Lakers in the last 12 plus months however, at least they had the common sense and foresight to not bow down to his desires and further mutilate their future to appease him. How does LeBron react to this decision? Well, he pouts even more – in the media this time – and alienates the fan-base of the franchise he is contracted to for the rest of this season and next.

Beyond a purely plus/minus analysis however, you can see how disinterested LeBron is in making any of his teammates better or actually winning games just by watching the team play. This attitude has been a hallmark of the end of his second tour of duty with the Cavaliers and has manifested itself particularly since he joined the Lakers to start the 2018-2019 season.

There have been countless compilations made on YouTube documenting him giving up on defense and not working for his teammates, as shown in one example here. What’s more, the older he gets, the more content he seems to only show up for nationally televised games with a team-first attitude, preferring to get by on his name, box-scores and reputation for the rest of the season.

History is repeating itself, with James pouting to try and get his way in Los Angeles after it worked at the 2017-2018 trade deadline in Cleveland. Credit: King James Gospel

Which brings me to the purpose of this article; talking about LeBron James’ legacy. For the better part of a decade and change, LeBron has been a two-way force who would do anything to help his teams to victories. Who would make his teammates better. Who would give his all on any given possession. That is not the version of LeBron James we’ve seen for the past four seasons though. Are we considering placing him above someone like Jordan, or even fellow Top 75er Kobe Bryant when it comes to the end of his career?

We shouldn’t be.

Let’s talk specifically about Jordan. An uncompromising player and teammate at times, Mike certainly rubbed people the wrong way across his career for a variety of reasons, but if you ask anyone now, one thing is clear: All MJ wanted was to win. Every night. Whether he was sick, undermanned or injured, he pushed himself and his teammates to be their best every time they took the court.

Even in his later years as a Washington Wizard, during a time when the talent around him wasn’t what it once was and the team failed to make the post-season, Jordan still played hard on both ends of the floor and lead from the front when it came to his teammates. Just look at his Top 10 Wizards highlights from those two seasons and you’ll see nearly half of them are defensive plays, despite being 38 and 39 years old.

Say what you want about Jordan, and plenty of teammates have over time, but he wanted to win and played hard on both ends at all times. Credit: Bleacher Report

Let that sink in. Jordan was playing harder on defence as a 39-year old on a Wizards team that failed to make the post-season twice than LeBron has been for the past five seasons. Now before I hear the collective out-cry of LeBron fans lobbing grenades from over the border, yes, I know LeBron has played defense while at the Lakers. This was apparent during the NBA Finals in the ‘bubble’ where he helped lead the team to a Championship. What I’m making a point about is that Jordan wasn’t selective in his play, opting to save his best for nationally televised games or the odd occasion where a Championship was on the line. He played hard every night for the love of the game.

Let’s now consider Kobe Bryant. Like Jordan, Kobe was maniacal in his approach to the game and his desire to play hard at all times. Also, like Jordan, he was renown as a hard-ass and someone who wasn’t afraid to demand more of (and berate if necessary) his teammates in an attempt to get them to play with the same level of heart and determination he did.

Kobe was unrelenting in his approach to the game, refusing to give an inch on principle, if nothing else, every time he stepped on the court. He may have had a string of net-negative performances to end his career according to the plus/minus metric, but can you tell me when he put up 60 in his final game that he wasn’t trying everything in his power to win? You’ll note that on that occasion, despite Utah having a play-off spot on the line, the Lakers did in fact win.

Like Jordan, you can say whatever you like about Kobe Bryant, but nobody ever questioned his desire to win. Credit: The New York Times

The more I think about it, the more I go back on my initial thoughts about LeBron James’ placement on the Mt Rushmore of NBA basketball. I used to declare that if he wins another title (his 5th), I’d put him above Jordan, arguing his longevity and run of consecutive NBA Finals in Miami and Cleveland is enough to bump him over the top.

After thinking a little more critically however, I’m going to argue LeBron doesn’t deserve first or second spot in the GOAT discussion, and he may not even feature on mine at all. We’ve been reminded of how astonishing some of the older guard were in their day with the ceremony for the Top 75 players ever in Cleveland recently, and I’m willing to place James below some of those who don’t usually get put into the GOAT discussion.

I’ll leave you with this. James famously declared after winning his fourth title in the bubble that he ‘wanted his damn respect, too’.

Well LeBron, if you want the highest respect – to be known as the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball – here’s a thought:

Play hard on both ends. Make your teammates better. Never give up on a possession while you’re on the court, and do it EVERY game.

Then I might give you the respect you feel you deserve.

Send us an email at!

Spotify –

Apple Podcasts –

Find us on: Twitter: @BMBTPodcast – Link:

1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page