In the case of the NBA, look at Cleveland and Miami with and without LeBron James. Day and night aren’t much more extreme.
True: Golden State would have been far weaker without Steph Curry. Still, as essential as Steph is to Golden State, LeBron is at least as essential to Cleveland.
Here’s how to tell. Subtract four other starters from Golden State and see how they do. That’s pretty much what happened to Cleveland. The starting team LeBron played with after Kyrie Irving went out was not the one he had at the start of the season. And still he led his team to a pair of overtime games in Oakland, and kept his team in every game in the series at least through three quarters.
And LeBron is a true leader. He could score on every possession, yet still shares the ball like a point guard, with quick pinpoint passes that often baffle his opponents, and smart plays in which he plays a supporting role.
That he’s expected to win championships nearly every year he plays, like Michael Jordan did, is ludicrous. There are 30 teams in the NBA, and plenty of talent on even the worst of them. Every year there are injuries and changes, on nearly every team. (Sad example: Oklahoma City.) One reason Golden State won it all was that they were relatively injury free all year — and notably in the playoffs. The team they played in the finals was LeBron and his bench. (And yes, some of that bench was first-string elsewhere, like J.R. Smith, who was huge in the playoffs for Cleveland.)
Not saying this to take anything away from Andre Iguodala, who was key to Golden State’s success (though obviously less valuable than Steph Curry), and named MVP of the finals. I love Andre’s game. He’s a smart defender and a great nearly-all-round player (he shoots better threes than free throws). But LeBron is more than the best player in the game. He’s the best team member as well. And that deserves more mention than it gets.
One last thing. Yeah, I know that LeBron overrode and ignored his coach much of this year. But consider this: LeBron is more than the best player. He may also be the smartest. The man has a legendary memory of every game he’s played, and a keen sense of what his team and each of its players can and can’t do — possibly more keen than any coach.
A common sports media assumption right now is that David Blatt will be gone as Cleveland’s coach next year. Here’s a possibility to consider: LeBron replacing him as player-coach. It’s not like it hasn’t been done. Remember Bill Russell.