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):
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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- Sports & Recreation
- LeBron James
- Dominique Wilkins