You can now read 10 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

The Boston Globe

Sports

Bob Ryan

LeBron James’s greatness is one of a kind

The salient issue is not the legacy of LeBron James, who is just 28 and who has a long way to go before he places his sneakers at center court and walks away from the game.

The real issue is Us, You and Me. Are We capable of enjoying the moment?

Continue reading below

If we cannot, shame on Us.

Speaking just for myself, I have been privileged to see every great basketball player of the past 60 years. I have been even more privileged to cover some of them and know them. All I can tell you is that I have never seen anything like LeBron James.

I have declared Bill Russell to be the greatest winner in the history of American team sport, and he was. A 21-0 career record in Somebody-Is-Going-Home-Tonight games is sufficient proof of that. But he was a center, and they are in a different category and are not part of this discussion.

I saw Oscar, I saw Jerry, I saw Havlicek, I saw Bird, I saw Magic, I saw Kobe, and you don’t have to tell me how many titles Michael won. Each of them had days, weeks, months, and years in which he was the Best Player On Earth.

But there is no question who claims that honor now.

The clear answer is LeBron James, and it is therefore incumbent on each of us as basketball fans to recognize what is going on. Stop with the needless Jordan career accomplishments. LeBron’s career is no more than two-thirds over. So may we please postpone the James-Jordan argument? There will be plenty of time for that.

Instead, let’s focus on what he does on the floor and how extraordinary an accomplishment it is that the Miami Heat have won a second consecutive championship when the only constant coach Erik Spoelstra could rely on in any of their 23 postseason games was the relentless nightly brilliance of LeBron James

It’s really a strange roster, as championship teams go. It’s supposed to have three superstars, but we all know better than that. Dwyane Wade is great sometimes and not so great other times, and it’s all because of injury. He’s going to the Hall of Fame, but the Hall of Fame Wade is a past-tense matter.

Chris Bosh is not going to the Hall of Fame, but he does have value to them because, frankly, he’s the only Very Tall Guy they have who can (occasionally) give them the things Very Tall Guys need to do.

Everyone else on the roster is replaceable.

Go ahead. Compare the Miami roster with that of the ’86 Celtics, ’87 Lakers, or ’89 and ’90 Pistons or some of Michael’s Chicago teams, and it’s not even close. K.C. Jones, Pat Riley, Chuck Daly, and Phil Jackson combined never had to do half the mixing and matching and wishing and hoping Spoelstra had to do in order to get this team home.

Are you ready?

Ray Allen was OK, but just OK, with 10 double-figure games out of 23. But he did have one rather large shot, and for that reason should never have to pick up any tabs in South Florida as long as he lives.

Mario Chalmers was pretty blah most of the time, and pretty damaging to the cause a lot of the time, unless you think 18 turnovers and 15 assists in a Finals is a decent point guard performance. But in Games 6 and 7 of the Finals, he had 20 and 14 points, respectively, and that nice little buzzer-beating banked three to conclude the third quarter of Game 7 was a very welcome development, sending the Heat into the fourth up by 2 rather than down by 1.

Chris “Birdman” Andersen did what he does very well, no question. His energy, his rebounding, and his defense were often on display, and how about shooting 35 for 41 in the first 12 games of the playoffs, all, of course, on dunks or putbacks, but all the result of knowing who he is and how to play with good players. And yet he was handed three DNPs in the last two series.

Norris Cole had back-to-back 18s in the Chicago series, but scored a total of only 62 points thereafter and was DNP’d for Games 6 and 7 of the Finals.

Mike Miller did go 5 for 5 one night on threes, but it was in a blowout loss, and in the end he contributed very little on offense while being abused on defense.

Udonis Haslem went 8 for 9 twice in three games during the Indiana series after shooting 13 for 21 in the Milwaukee sweep. He was then DNP’d in Game 6 of the Finals.

Joel Anthony, a starter many times during his Heat career, was DNP’d nine times in 23 games.

Rashard Lewis and James Jones did not matter. FYI: Since dropping 25 on the Celtics in Game 1 in 2011, Jones has scored 75 playoff points total.

And the best for last: Shane Battier.

A starter and valuable contributor in the 2012 championship run, Battier was a Dead Man Sitting as the Finals began, mainly because his famed 3-point stroke was on a long, long vacation. Starting with the fourth game of the Chicago series, Battier clanked ’em up at a 6-for-37 rate, thus earning a seat on the bench that even included a startling DNP.

But he hit a pair in Game 5 of the Finals, and then went 3 for 4 in Game 6. As for Game 7, well, he was the necessary X-factor du jour, hitting his first six shots, all threes (he had only one 2-point field goal out of his 27 playoff makes).

See a pattern here? What with the limitations of Messrs. Wade and Bosh, and what with all these in-and-out guys and all these DNP guys placing Spoelstra in a position of nightly lineup uncertainty, the only thing he could count on was the scoring, rebounding, passing, defending, and competitive spirit of LeBron James.

I said I have never seen anything quite like him, and I haven’t. I’ve never seen anyone with his size and strength combined with such quickness and such a generosity of basketball spirit. It is almost as if he is tortured by the reality of his individual greatness.

Jordan — oops, I said we shouldn’t compare — was not comfortable sharing. LeBron is not comfortable doing it by himself. He has learned to take over when it is necessary, but it does not come naturally to him.

Anyway, please, let him play it out. Then we can place him in the proper historical context.

He’s right here, right now. He is the consummate basketball artiste. We are truly blessed to have him.

Bob Ryan's column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.
Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week