Growing up, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. It was the only time when I could see all of my extended family in one place. We would all converge in one city and enjoy delicious food and good company (I still argue that my aunts are some of the best cooks in the world). I would usually spend Thanksgiving Day playing video games and watching football with my cousins while we anxiously awaited the food. As we got closer to dinnertime, my mom would call me in to help set up the tables and seating arrangements. This is when I would be reminded of my status: the kids’ table. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the kids’ table itself. In fact, I loved hanging out with my cousins and cracking jokes during dinner. I just didn’t understand why we had to be so deliberately separated from the grown-ups. Why couldn’t I be in on the grown-up conversation?
When I look at Lebron James and his place in the NBA landscape over the last few years, I imagine him sitting with the other kids looking longingly at a grown-up table consisting of legends like Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon (and fine, Kobe too) as they drink their fine wine and laugh at inside jokes. I could see him glancing around his own table and indignantly passing the potatoes to Karl Malone and rolling his eyes at one of Charles Barkley’s over-the-top stories. He’d be wondering why he was not allowed to join the grown-ups, and the answer would be that he was great, but not legendary. A spot at the grown-up table must be earned.
America loves winners and true greatness in basketball, more than any other professional sport, is determined by one metric: Championship Rings. Michael Jordan won a MVP award (1988), Defensive Player of the Year (1988), four scoring titles (1987-90), and was named to several All-NBA First Teams, but until he finally won his first championship title in 1991, he was constantly reminded that he had not reached the pantheon level of Magic, Bird and the other legends. Similarly, Lebron wowed us during his seven seasons in Cleveland with two MVP awards (2009 & 2010), one scoring title (2008), a number of All-NBA First Team selections and performances like this, but with no championship ring, he would be forced to remain at the kids’ table.
Do not get me wrong. Championships are not the only prerequisite for legendary status. Ewing, Barkley and Malone will always be revered as three of the best to ever play their respective positions, but that’s where the conversation will stop. Michael Jordan and Lebron James played their way in to the Hall of Fame with super-human feats early in their careers, but they both realized that in order to be taken seriously in any “Greatest of All-Time” discussion – the kinds of discussions that only occur at the grown-up table – they would have to bring home the hardware. On Thursday night, June 21, 2012, Lebron led the Miami Heat to the mountaintop and earned a seat at the grown-up table.
Pull up a chair, Lebron.