The most asinine argument in sports died a quiet, painless death on Tuesday night at the hands of the baddest man in the NBA. Among his many accomplishments, LeBron James’ most important, at least to me, is the work he did in this year’s playoffs to lay the idea of “rings” to rest.
You know “rings?" It’s the one-word argument deployed by block-headed haters when they’re comparing players like LeBron to those who’ve won more championships. Ask a group of basketball fans how LeBron matches up to Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant and you’re bound to hear someone shout, “Rings!” As of Tuesday, when LeBron failed to win a ring after carrying a ragtag group of role players all the way to game six of the finals, that person is making an argument that no longer exists.
It’s worth noting that “rings” never made any sense. Evaluating individual players on their team’s accomplishments is nonsense, especially in basketball, a sport in which no one player is ever as in control as a quarterback or starting pitcher. Individual basketball players should be evaluated on what those players do and no individual player has ever done more for his team in the finals than LeBron did for the Cavs this year.
Here’s a stat that sums up what a ridiculous individual performance LeBron put on these finals: 38.3 percent. That’s the share of the Cavs points LeBron scored in the six-game series. The only player to ever score more of his team’s points was Jordan in 1993, when he put up 38.4 percent of the Bulls points. But there’s a difference between the 2015 Cavs and the 1993 Bulls and it’s as big as Timofey Mozgov. Playing alongside Jordan on the ‘93 Bulls were Scottie Pippen, B.J. Armstrong and Horace Grant. Those might not be most impressive teammates, but they are a Hall of Famer, a 45% three-point shooter, and double-double machine, respectively. LeBron, meanwhile, had Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson on his side—not exactly the kind of players defenders scramble to cover. Point being, Lebron scored virtually the same percentage of his team’s points as Jordan did in 1993 on a team with fewer scoring threats and, therefore, more defensive attention on him.
Ask a proponent of the “rings” argument who had the better series though—Jordan in ‘93 or LeBron in ‘15—and they’ll stare at you, slack-jawed and shout, “Rings!” Could someone argue that Jordan had a better series in ‘93? Of course, but his team’s ultimate victory in that series shouldn’t be a part of the argument. One player can only do so much and no player has ever done as much as LeBron did this year. LeBron led both teams in points, rebounds and assists per game, the first time a player has ever done that. That’s a historically great performance that will be forgotten because he didn’t end it by holding a trophy over his head.
So, in lieu of a ring, we recognize LeBron as the man who finally killed “rings.” It might not mean much to him, but to every sports fan who sees nuance, it’s a great gift.
Photos by Jason Miller/Getty Images