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There are some things in this world that are difficult to admit. It’s difficult to admit that your friend is the better Fortnight player than you, that you’re going to quit going to the gym after a month or two, or that your cover of Wonderwall on acoustic guitar didn’t impress the cute girl at the bonfire.
We all shape our thoughts to line up with the things we want to believe, often ignoring reality in the process. With this being said, it’s time to acknowledge a difficult truth: LeBron James is unquestionably the most valuable player in the NBA, and has been for years.
I recognize that this will not be a popular opinion. Scores of basketball fans, myself included, harbor a deep resentment for LeBron. He whines and complains and flops. He eliminates our teams from the playoffs. He receives favorable treatment from a league that makes millions of dollars off of his success. But none of that can take away from the fact that he is unquestionably the most important player on any team in the league, year in and year out.
Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant are all bona fide superstars with legitimate claims to the MVP titles they’ve won these few past seasons. They all succeeded in putting up eyepopping numbers, statistically distancing themselves from their peers (Westbrook averaged a triple double last year, for fuks sake). But what differentiates LeBron from these players is his ability to carry a team—to completely dominate a game both physically and emotionally—whenever he wants to.
Look at his performances so far in this year’s playoffs for evidence. In the first round against the Pacers the Cavaliers were consistently outmatched by their opponent. After game 2, my friends and I played a game where someone listed a Cavs stat from the game (points, rebounds, etc.) and the rest of us guessed whether it belonged to James or the other starters combined. Surprise surprise, the answer was always LeBron. In the second round the Cavs swept the Raptors, a team with the second best regular season record in the league. James has led his team in nearly every statistic during these two series, making big play after big play after big play (See: various game winning shots, miraculous fadeaways, etc.)
He does this consistently, putting the team on his back and willing their success into existence. Yes, he’s lost on the biggest stage a number of times. But how did those teams get to be playing in those games in the first place? Did the 2007 Cavaliers, whose second and third leading scorers (Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden) averaged 14.9 and 11.1 points per game deserve to play a Spurs team led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili? Of course not. They got swept. But LeBron did deserve to be playing on that level, and gave everyone a taste of what was to come in the years to follow.
— Team LeBron (@TeamLeBron____) May 4, 2018
This all serves to illustrate a point. Regardless of the impressive accomplishments of any given MVP in the past, say, 10 or so years, LeBron has consistently proven himself to be the most important and valuable player in the game. He would never have received the award over the players that did win it, as a newer, fresher narrative is always more appealing than choosing the same guy repeatedly. But when it really comes down to it, consider this situation: A team needs to win a game, needs a player who can assert his presence in a way that ensures a victory. Who do you pick? If you’re an honest person, you answered LeBron James. If you’re a liar, you answered someone else. I rest my case.