One of the more impressive things about LeBron James is his ability to silence critics. Throughout his career, analysts and fans have noted things that James could not or would not be able to do, only for the reigning MVP to prove them wrong or make such statements look like an increasingly embarrassing attempt to grasp at straws. LeBron is just that good.
On Monday night, James set a career-high and Miami Heat franchise-high by scoring 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats. The game has been the source of much discussion already, reigniting the MVP race with Kevin Durant and raising more questions about LeBron's place in NBA history.
You would think that no one would find any problem with this performance. However, NBA legend Dominique Wilkins thinks we're all overrating LeBron's line. From the Hall of Famer's Twitter account (via For The Win):
No denying he put on a shooting display. He was hot. Let's not forget, he was playing the Bobcats. A sub 500 team w a match up nightmare.— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) March 4, 2014
Where is the Defense? The Bobcats put up 107 points in a defenseless display of basketball. Offensively who was there to make Bron work on D— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) March 4, 2014
Why are we not talking about Al Jefferson and the MONSTER night he had 38 and 19! Yes, like I said, Bron got hot & put on a shooting clinic.— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) March 4, 2014
Watch the film. No close outs on D, doubles were late, rotations were slow. It was too easy to score. At 54 y/o I could drop 40 on that D— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) March 4, 2014
Bron is a freakish athlete, yes, no doubt. I could say I was too in my prime, but averaging 30 then against the greats like Bird, MJ, King— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) March 4, 2014
AND having to guard them on the other side was an all out war. You were dogged by halftime and had to pick it up & do it again the 2nd half— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) March 4, 2014
Let me be clear again, amazing shooting display, he was on fire and VERY efficient. My point is the Cats didn't work him on the other end.— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) March 4, 2014
It isn't just about slow rotations & poor closeouts. Who made Bron work on the other end w/ Henderson hurt and Al carrying the team?— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) March 4, 2014
Was this enough to now thrust Bron into MVP vote leads? We forget the body of work KD has been shouldering when Westbrook goes down?— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) March 4, 2014
My take is not knocking Bron at all. It's really more so about the game & how it has changed.— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) March 4, 2014
While Wilkins might claim otherwise, these comments absolutely knock what LeBron James did against the Bobcats. Yes, it's true that Nique doesn't outright say that James couldn't get close to such numbers in the era when he played, but the argument is there. Wilkins says that the Bobcats played terrible defense, implies that he faced off directly with Hall of Famers every single night, praises LeBron for his athleticism and hot shooting but not his immense skill, and goes so far as to say that he, a 54-year-old man, could have scored 40 points under the same conditions (never mind that, in his age 39 season, Wilkins hit double figures four times and failed to score 20 points). These comments diminish what James did on Monday because they suggest that the circumstances that led to this point total are commonplace and a product of an era in which many teams aren't very good. The implication here is that Wilkins and his equally amazing peers would have been (or still would be!) scoring monsters in the same conditions.
In a way, Wilkins is correct, because a lot has to go right for a player to score 60 points. After all, it has only happened 31 times for 18 players in the last 51 years — those are numbers that indicate just how difficult and rare the accomplishment is. But this isn't what Wilkins is claiming. He is saying, basically, that NBA talent is spread so thin (in comparison to the '80s, prior to rampant expansion) that the Bobcats, a team in line to make the playoffs this season, could have given up 40 points to a 54-year-old man carrying two decades of the wear and tear of professional basketball.
We see such arguments all the time. A truly great player from the past, now deservedly a part of the history of the game, fights to keep himself relevant by comparing his era favorably to the present day. Our Kelly Dwyer has dismantled similar arguments before, and it's not really worth doing so again here. Mostly, that's because Wilkins is not making a logical argument about LeBron's place in history. He's asking all of us to acknowledge how great he was.
So, yes, Wilkins was really great, and maybe he has a point that we should talk about it more. But we could also note that his two games with his career-high 57 points occurred in a blowout win (just like LeBron's) and high-scoring shootout against two eventual playoff teams that finished with losing records. It's not as if these lines were not also products of their environment. If so inclined, it's always possible to make an accomplishment seem less impressive by providing cherry-picked context. The question is why anyone would feel the need to do such a thing.
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