The Los Angeles Lakers are heavy favorites in the NBA Finals. William Hill Sportsbook has set its series line against the Miami Heat at -360, meaning that to win $100 on them, a bettor would need to risk $360. Lately, this has been something of a rarity for LeBron James, who opened the last four NBA Finals as an underdog with the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors.
It is a major point of contention in debates between James and Michael Jordan. Yes, James has a 3-6 record in the NBA Finals, but in many cases, the odds were stacked against him. James acknowledged that to an extent on Tuesday when speaking to reporters, claiming that when he has lost in the Finals, it has been because his opponent was the better team.
"At the end of the day, when I've lost in the Finals, the better team won because they played well, they were more prepared and they did what they needed to do to win those four games," James said.
"When I've won, the same thing. I'm not here to talk about the talent we all have, the team that we have. The game is won in between the four lines, 94 feet. The team that is prepared and the team that executes, the team that is not careless throughout 48 minutes will give themselves a chance to win each and every game."
LeBron refused to blame his teammates for his Finals losses, instead arguing that winning and losing is a team function. His supporters would argue that doesn't go far enough. In both 2007 and 2018, he reached the NBA Finals without an All-Star teammate. He was swept by heavy favorites in both matchups. James detractors would argue that James played for the favorite in 2011 and 2014, but still lost both series. The 2011 loss to Dallas was particularly egregious. The Mavericks may or may not have been the better team, but James' struggles were the story of the series.
The circumstances James and Jordan played under make the championship portion of comparisons particularly difficult to parse. Jordan was fortunate enough to play in a relatively stable era, winning his six championships with the same coach and star teammate on the same roster. James faced different opponents of varying degrees of difficulty across his first nine trips to the Finals, and he did so with drastically different amounts of talent on his own side. Ultimately, LeBron is right. If a team beats another team four times out of seven, barring extenuating circumstances, that team probably was better. If nothing else, it was better at doing what NBA teams are supposed to be built to do: win four games out of seven. Individual players play a big part in determining which team is better, but they are not the be-all and end-all, and judging individuals on team performance, therefore, is a bit too simplistic.