A word cloud to describe the feelings of NBA fans who were treated to another playoff series between LeBron James and Stephen Curry (and the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors) might look something like this:
Baffled. Speechless. Ecstatic. privileged. Nostalgic. hyped. About the moon. Happy. Curious.
I don’t know about you, but two all-time greats hearing each other while still capable of destroying anyone in their path excites me as an NBA fan. Both have accomplished so much, and yet somehow they have the ability and ability to accomplish so much more.
LeBron is one of the top two players in NBA history and at 38 he can still go downhill like a locomotive or defy the laws of gravity when the need arises. I’m still in awe of his overtime forcing over Defensive Player of the Year Jars Jackson Jr. against Memphis in Game 4 of the first round.
Curry is the greatest shooter ever, rising in the NBA’s all-time great debate and coming out with the only 50-point performance in a Game 7 in league history. He’s 35 and can still launch logo shots, stepback threes and put on a show with the best of them.
It all forms the basis of what will become the most decorated game between two players in NBA postseason history. I’m talking about two superstars with incredible trophy cabinets, two icons of the game.
Sure, the ’60s Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell must have been incredible. Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson faced each other in the 1972 postseason. In the 1987 finals, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson both went for a fourth ring. Michael Jordan against Karl Malone and John Stockton in the 1997 and 1998 finals fits the bill. We also saw Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant each face Tim Duncan late in their careers. And of course LeBron against Curry and Kevin Durant in the 2017 and 2018 Finals.
But none of that is like LeBron versus Steph in 2023. And I don’t think I’m a prisoner of the moment. Need more proof? Here are 10 reasons why this is the most decorated playoff game ever.
1. The Mount Rushmore Corner
There are only four players in NBA history with at least four championships, two NBA MVPs, and one scoring title. LeBron James. Stephen Curry. Michael Jordan. Kareem Abdul Jabbar. So it cannot be the NBA Mount Rushmore, but it’s pretty close. And this is the first time that a combination of players with these trophy cabinets will compete against each other.
2. It’s GOAT (all-around player) vs. GOAT (shooter)
LeBron James is the only player in NBA history with 30,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 10,000 assists. In terms of all-around ability, LeBron is unique. Curry broke the all-time record for three pointers made at age 33 and he’s still dropping them from downtown Fisherman’s Wharf, heck, whichever part of San Francisco you want. Seriously though, he’s seen as one of the most revolutionary players in the league’s history.
3. Experienced players with new(er) titles
This will be only the third game between the all-time leader (a title LeBron clinched in February) and the three-point leader (a title Steph clinched in December 2021). So yeah, it’s really, really rare. The only two previous instances were in the 1987 NBA Finals when Kareem Abdul-Jabber (points) defeated Larry Bird (3s), and a Western Conference Semifinal in 1989 when Abdul-Jabbar (points) defeated Dale Ellis’ (3s ) defeated SuperSonics.
4. Familiar yet unfamiliar territory
If you’ve been an NBA fan for most of the past 10 years, this whole LeBron vs. Steph thing isn’t exactly new to you. But all of their previous encounters took place while LeBron played for the Eastern Conference Cleveland Cavaliers. You may recall that the Cavs and Warriors met in four straight NBA Finals, from 2015 to 2018. But since LeBron joined the Lakers in 2019, this is the first season where both the Lakers and Warriors have made the playoffs reaches. (And if you need a reminder, Curry has the series advantage, 3-1.)
5. A Fifth Ring and the GOAT Debate
Curry’s 50 point game on Sunday, in terms of point guards (with Magic Johnson) and all-time greats. But imagine what a fifth ring would mean. Each player, if they got that far, would match the ring total of Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant – though still one behind Michael Jordan. (No judgment, just facts.) For LeBron, a fifth ring (and fifth Finals MVP) could sway a lot of people in the Jordan-LeBron GOAT debate.
6. 60,364 points … from just two players
In terms of pure regular season scores alone, this James-Curry tandem is almost unparalleled. As opponents, they have combined for 60,364 points, the second-highest total by two enemies in NBA playoff history. The only opposing duo with more runs scored would be LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, when the latter was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. The teams met in the first round of the 2020 postseason, en route to the Lakers final title.
7. Thirties go for 50
LeBron and Steph are two of the seven oldest players in playoff history to record a 50-point game. It’s been a minute, but LeBron scored 50 in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals. Curry, of course, scored 50 on Sunday. Maybe you heard.
8. Plans for June?
To the casual observer, it seems like The Association can’t even hold an NBA Finals without a LeBron James or Steph Curry on the floor. At least one of these two stars has made the championship streak in 11 of the previous 12 seasons. (The 2021 Bucks-Suns matchup was the lone exception.) LeBron and Steph have jointly won two of the last three titles, along with associated Finals MVP awards. And they were two of the six oldest players to win the award. As things are trending, you shouldn’t be surprised if either player takes their team to another final next month.
9. Still writing, er, rewriting the record books
It’s LeBron’s 20th season and Curry’s 14th and they’re still doing things they’ve never done before. In Game 4 against the Grizzlies, LeBron posted his first game with 20 rebounds in his career, regular season or playoffs. His tie to defensive player of the year, Jars Jackson Jr., at age 38, was one of the most impressive moments of his playoff career. Sunday saw the NBA’s 146th Game 7, and Curry’s 50-point performance was the first in such a winner-takes-all game.
10. Oh Baby…
You can’t make this stuff up. There are over 6,000 hospitals in the United States and somehow two of the greatest players in NBA history were born in the same one – Akron General Medical Center… If you disagree, it’s this is the most decorated playoff game between two players in NBA history we can all agree that this is the most decorated between two NBA players born in the same hospital.