If this is about the rings, please.
It should never be about the rings.
If LeBron James leaves the Cavs to continue chasing rings because he thinks he must, in order to overtake Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever, he’s wasting his time and tainting his image.
To these eyes and, surely, to those of millions of other witnesses of his just-completed season for the ages, LeBron has now caught and passed Jordan as the greatest player ever — and it has nothing to do with how many rings either player has won.
The great Bill Russell won more rings than LeBron and Jordan COMBINED. It’s Russell 11, LeBron plus Jordan nine — but you rarely, if ever, hear Russell’s name mentioned in any GOAT discussions.
Greatest winner ever? Yes. Greatest player ever? Probably not. In judging singular greatness, the rings are not the thing.
With LeBron and Jordan, however, the ring count inexplicably and improperly drives the greatest-ever narrative for many voters.
Rings are what they are — mere jewelry — not greatest-player-ever identifiers.
Here, for example, is a list of players who have won more rings than Jordan and LeBron have won individually: Sam Jones (10), Tom Heinsohn (eight), K.C. Jones (eight), Tom Sanders (eight), John Havlicek (eight), Jim Loscutoff (seven), Frank Ramsey (seven) and Robert Horry (seven).
I mean, come on people, Will Perdue (four) has more rings than LeBron (three). So what?
During the 1961-62 season, the offensively unstoppable Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game, averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds and played every second of every game. In his entire career Wilt won two rings — the same number as Norris Cole. So what?
If LeBron wants to leave Cleveland to go play on a team with one of his buddies, fine. If he wants to leave Cleveland to go play in a city where he thinks he and his family would like to live, fine. If he wants to leave Cleveland to go play for a coach for whom he’s always wanted to play, fine.
But if he leaves Cleveland to chase rings, not fine.
He’s already the greatest player ever. If he wins four more rings or no more rings, that’s not going to change.
Chasing rings has become an unbecoming behavior pattern among the basketball elite. If you already have some rings, or even just one. I would argue that chasing rings tarnishes, rather than confirms or burnishes, the legacy of an all-time great.
For the all-time greats there’s something to be said for sticking around and being great just for the sake of being great.
When asked to name the greatest player in NFL history, does anyone not vote for Jim Brown because he won only one ring?
Does it lessen the greatness of the great Hank Aaron that after 23 spectacular Hall of Fame years in the majors he only won one World Series ring?
Greatness shouldn’t be defined as a bling thing.
I mean, if you’re a player near the bottom of the NBA food chain, and you have the option of signing with a team that has a chance to win a ring or a team that doesn’t, you should probably sign with the better team. Good for you. But we’re not talking about you.
If, however, you’re already the greatest player in the world, the greatest player ever and you want to change teams, for the third time in eight years, twice leaving your hometown team, in hopes of winning another ring or two, just because Jordan has six and you only have three, that’s tacky. Tacky and legacy destructive.
All of that said, if LeBron still decides to leave again, even though it would fly in the face of his stated intention — declared, on the record, multiple times since his return from Miami — to finish his career with the Cavs, he would still deserve a respectful tip of the cap.
He came back, he won a championship. Now he might leave again. If he does, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons, it won’t cheapen what he did while he was here, which was to deliver Cleveland’s only sports championship in over half a century.
That’s something. But chasing rings is not. The greatest player in the world should be above chasing rings. Let the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth greatest players in the world chase rings.
The King is The King for a reason, and everybody knows it.
Whenever all the games are finally over, forever, bring whoever has the most rings into a theater. Sit him down, turn off the lights and run the video of LeBron’s 2018 playoff run.
When it’s over, when the ring king (lower case) gets up and is walking up the aisle out of theater, quietly look him in the eye … and wink.
Contact Jim Ingraham at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.