As LeBron James bulldozes his way to his fourth consecutive Finals, and faces the prospect of a three-peat, the comparison game (LJ vs. MJ, Bron vs. Bird) has become as entertaining as the actual playoff games themselves. Their numbers are easy to put side-by-side and ring counts are starting to stack up. But in any argument about King James’ historical context the inevitable caveat arises—he plays in a wimpier era. We can’t re-institute hand checks just the same as we can’t retroactively make Bill Laimbeer or Rick Mahorn as athletic as Kawhi Leonard.
LeBron has gotten his share of flack for complaining to refs about fouls but his reaction is at least partly justified by the fact that the only way to stop a 6’8″, 250 lb. freight train is to bang him off his track to the basket. Opposing teams routinely bash James, some as a primary strategy and others as a last resort. Those hits are every bit as hard as the “hard fouls” Larry Bird but the late 80s and early 90s NBA is remembered as tougher, mostly because after those intentional fouls, even star players would get up and throw punches. LeBron doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t LeBron Rules. Here are nine instances where James got hit with Bad Boys-level hard fouls.
It’s no secret that the Heat get out on fastbreaks a ton so defenders are often in the position of trying to deliver a foul while James is at top speed or in the air, as then-Sixer Evan Turner does here.2 of 10
Ian Mahinmi isn’t gonna jump with LeBron so his best shot at stopping him is on the way up. Clearly not a play on the ball, but still not called for a flagrant.3 of 10
The Bulls have a long history of roughing up LeBron an even plucky lil’ Nate Rob got in on the action in the open court.4 of 10
If Russell Westbrook would’ve fouled Jordan like this there would have been consequences and repercussions.5 of 10
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As expected, the Heat/Pacers rivalry gets intense and here David West issues a hard foul and then gets in another shove, just to reinforce Indiana’s message.7 of 10
Charlotte’s Josh McRoberts lead with his elbow and clearly delivers a forearm shiver to LeBron’s neck. McRoberts was later fined $20K by the league but during the game this was simply ruled a flagrant 1.8 of 10
Despite Ibaka having broken James’ nose on the play, and James finishing the dunk, there was still no call on this one.9 of 10
One of the most Laimbeer-like fouls came from David Lee. This one looked even harder than most because we’re so used to seeing LeBron land on his feet.10 of 10