Thursday’s loss in Game 6 dropped the record of LeBron James’ teams in the NBA Finals to 2-4. Of the 11 players in NBA history to win the MVP award and reach Finals five or more times, only James and Wilt Chamberlain have a losing record in Finals.
Chamberlain is not the only Hall of Fame member who reached at least 3 Finals and has a losing record. A total of 18 Hall of Fame members have that distinction (according to the Elias Sports Bureau), including Chamberlain (also 2-4), Jerry West (1-8) and Karl Malone (0-3).
How well do James and his teams compare historically to other all-time greats? Stats & Info takes a look.
James does it all … except in the clutch
It would be hard to blame James for the Cavaliers’ loss in the 2015 Finals. He became the first player to lead both teams in points, rebounds and assists per game in an NBA Finals.
He scored or assisted on 57.7 points per game during the 2015 Finals, the most per game in Finals history – beating the mark of Michael Jordan (55.3) in the 1993 Finals.
But, in clutch time, James faltered. (Clutch time is defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime with the score within five points.)
James missed 14 of his 17 field goals in clutch time during the 2015 Finals, including shots to win in regulation of Game 1 and Game 2. The Cavaliers were outscored in the fourth quarter and overtime in every game but Game 6, when the Warriors had a comfortable lead entering the quarter.
Hall of Fame company with losing record in Finals
In having a losing record in the NBA’s championship series, James is in good company.
Elgin Baylor reached seven NBA Finals without winning a ring. He retired nine games into the 1971-72 season, which ended with the Lakers winning the championship. Baylor played in the Finals in seven of the 12 seasons in which he logged at least 10 games.
Jerry West was a teammate of Baylor’s on many of those Lakers teams and was 1-8 in the NBA Finals. Yet his career was distinguished enough for his silhouette to be represented on the NBA’s logo. West averaged 27 points a game for his career and was an All-Star in all 14 of his NBA seasons.
Karl Malone earned two MVP awards and scored 36,928 career points, second all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but Malone did not deliver in the NBA Finals. He lost all three of his Finals appearances, twice to Jordan’s Bulls and once to the Detroit Pistons.
Chamberlain is perhaps the greatest statistical player of all time. He scored 100 in a game, averaged 50 for a season and retired with career averages of 30 points and nearly 23 rebounds per game.
James doesn’t match Jordan, others
James belongs in the conversation of best guard/wing player ever, yet in a group that also includes Jordan, Bryant, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, only James has a losing Finals record.
In fact, in 12 fewer Finals appearances, James has as many NBA Finals series losses as Jordan, Bryant and Bird combined.
James' career Finals scoring average of 26.4 points does not measure up to the 33.6 points per game Jordan scored in racking up a 6-0 Finals record.
Making Finals year after year after ...
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that James is the only player to play in five straight NBA Finals since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in the 1983-84 season.
Among players with at least five Finals appearances, only Bill Russell (10) and Bob Cousy (seven) had longer streaks of consecutive Finals appearances than James. But keep this in mind about those streaks:
• There were no more than nine teams in the NBA.
• They played three series or fewer in a postseason and played three series only in 1966; in the previous nine years, the Finals was their second series.
• Russell never played more than 17 games in a postseason, Cousy never more than 14 games.
James has made the Finals six times. Other players with exactly six appearances are Chamberlain, Jordan, James Worthy, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan (all of the retired players except O’Neal - who is eligible in 2017 - are in the Hall of Fame).
Jordan and Pippen appeared in three straight Finals on two occasions. O’Neal had a three-peat in the early 2000s and had Bryant as a running mate. Worthy appeared in three straight Finals but had teammates such as Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar. And Duncan and Chamberlain never made it to three straight Finals.