LeBron James continues to be one of the NBA's most widely disliked and polarizing players. This wave of criticism began during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Celtics when James had several mysteriously out of character performances and came to a boiling point when he made a televised announcement of his decision to sign with the Heat.
But there is little denying that James is in a better position to win a title with the Heat than he would have been had he decided to stay with the Cavaliers. Miami is widely considered the favorite to win the 2012 NBA Finals and James' model of teaming up with fellow superstars is being replicated by Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire with the Knicks, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin with the Clippers, and almost certainly Dwight Howard whether he ends up with the Nets or Lakers.
Who are the best players that the Cavaliers were able to put on the floor as James' running mates?
- Mo Williams, who became an All-Star with LeBron and was traded away by Cleveland less than a year after he left in exchange for a lottery pick.
- Larry Hughes, who was not on an NBA team last season. Played with LeBron from 2006 to 2008.
- Drew Gooden, from 2004 to 2008.
- A 37-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, in 2010—then, a shell of his former self.
- A 33-year-old Antawn Jamison, in 2010—then, a shell of his former self.
- Zydrunas Illgauksus, LeBron’s teammate from 2003 to 2010.
Considering the 10-11 Cavaliers that won 19 games were similar to the 09-10 Cavs, minus LeBron, that’s convincing evidence that he didn’t have much help around him. LeBron would have continued to carry a subpar Cleveland team to 60-win regular seasons and then be unfairly blamed for playoff eliminations when he couldn't overcome the fact that his best teammate was the fourth or fifth best player in the series.
As for, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, who many like to measure LeBron against—they never left their teams to play with each other because they never had to. Those three players had outstanding supporting casts, while future Hall of Famers like Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing had far less talent on their teams of the same era. David Robinson never even reached The Finals until Tim Duncan arrived. Hakeem Olajuwon never won The Finals until Jordan retired and when his Rockets had an influx of young talent in Sam Cassell and Robert Horry.
A sampling of Jordan's teammates:
- Scottie Pippen: 7x All Star, 7x All NBA team (including 3 First Team selections, 2 from when Jordan was playing baseball), 10x All Defensive team, Hall of Fame (HOF)
- Dennis Rodman: 8x All Defensive team, 8x rebounding champion, 2x All Star, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, 2x champion before teaming w/Jordan, HOF
- Horace Grant: 4x All Defensive team, 1x All Star
A sampling of Magic’s teammates:
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 6x MVP (5 were earned before Magic entered the NBA), 15x All NBA team, 2 Finals MVPs, 19x All Star, HOF
- James Worthy: 7x All Star, 1x Finals MVP, HOF
- Bob McAdoo: 1x MVP, 5x All Star, 3x led the league in scoring, HOF
And don’t forget that Magic was quoted in the L.A. Times as saying, "The only reason I came out [in the 1979 NBA Draft] was to play with Kareem and the Lakers.”
A sampling of Bird’s teammates:
- Kevin McHale: 7x All Star, 6x All Defensive Team, HOF
- Robert Parish: 9x All Star, 2x All NBA team, HOF
- Dennis Johnson: 5x All Star, 1x Finals MVP, 9x All Defensive Team, HOF
James' decision to take advantage of a unique situation to join forces with one future Hall of Famer in Dwyane Wade and a perennial All-Star at power forward in Chris Bosh is even more logical now than it was in July of 2010.