Golden State Warriors legend Rick Barry recently said that LeBron James is already, at age 30, the greatest small forward of all time. That may seem like a premature declaration – after all, James probably has at least six or seven years left in his career – but it’s really not.
And even if it is premature, it’s hard to argue with.
“Well, I’d have to say (James is) in total command of the game the way it’s played right now, and he’s got all the tools physically,” 10-time NBA champion and Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “He just overpowers people, and he’s added the extra dimensions of intelligence and competitiveness. Earlier when he was with Cleveland, there was one game (against Boston) I doubted he’d ever become a superstar. It was almost like he gave up. But he’s resolved that issue. So he’s well on his way to greatness.”
James might not catch Michael Jordan’s six championships, but if he can lift the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title this season, it would be one of the greatest accomplishments in league history.
The Cavs beat the Warriors, 95-93, in overtime in Game 2 on Sunday to even the series at one game apiece. James had another unreal performance – 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists – proving once again why he’s the best player on the planet.
Of course, it helps that the league MVP had one of the worst games of his career. Stephen Curry shot just 5-of-23 from the floor, including 2-of-15 from three-point range. He also air-balled a jumper that would have given the Warriors the lead in the final seconds of overtime.
The narrative all season has been that Curry is the greatest shooter of all time, but after a string of bad games, might it be time to revise that theory? Is Curry a better shooter than, say, Larry Bird?
“Well, I go by scorers,” Heinsohn said. “Larry Bird had so much more to his game than people ever gave him credit for. Not only could he hit the outside shot – he won the three-point shooting contest a couple of times – he had all the tweener shots. He even had behind-the-backboard shots. How did he do that? So this kid (Curry) is developing. We’re going to find out just how great a player he is because when you get to this level – and this is what LeBron learned that one game when he kind of disappeared against the Celtics – he learned what it took to really be a winner. And that’s what’s going on right now with Curry. Curry’s first step up to the big time where he’s the man, the pressure – he’s never had this pressure before. To me, he was affected emotionally (in Game 2) because he couldn’t buy a basket. That can’t happen. You got to make something happen someplace else.”
Curry will have a chance to redeem himself Tuesday in Game 3. Tip-off is slated for 9 p.m. ET.
Heinsohn believes the series will hinge on which team can manage its emotions better.
“I’m waiting to see what Curry does in a bounce-back game,” he said. “They need him to establish his game and get that outside game going, but I think they’ll split (in Cleveland). I’m going to pick the Warriors in seven.”