WASHINGTON -- Michael Cooper recognizes the 2016 NBA Finals title isn't all that's at stake in Sunday night's decisive Game 7 for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers as well as the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Deny if you must, but historic legacies are in play. Perhaps living up to nicknames as well.
"I think it's going to be important for him to do everything he can to win this," Cooper said of James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player and owner of a losing record in NBA Finals.
"If LeBron wins this game and [the Cavaliers] win the championship, I think he can legitimately claim the 'King' title. He'll be 'King James.' He'll be up there with the greatest."
Cooper, a five-time champion with the "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers and current coach of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream, played with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and against Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Michael Jordan.
That's the group, along with Bill Russell, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and other all-timers that James has always competed against, as well as the hype that's accompanied the "King James" nickname since the do-everything forward entered the league straight out of High School.
Other than brief "who's the best active player" debates involving James and Bryant, the discussion about the 12-time All-Star has always been on the all-time level. Those who cannot comprehend any critique of James haven't always understood this.
Take away the pure haters and internet trolls. Criticism of James, whether over his current 2-5 NBA Finals record or for shrinking at times in big moments, isn't about suggesting he's a rank-and-file player, just like stating a preference for a musical prodigy like Prince means one thinks Michael Jackson was a hack. It's about stacking up with other been there, done that legends. It's fair to, as Boston Globe columnist/hoops historian Bob Ryan did this week, note James "certainly he's had an inconsistent record" on the biggest stage while also touting his brilliance.
Even with a win Sunday, which would mean his third NBA title, James would still have a losing NBA Finals record. Russell, Jordan, Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Duncan, Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal do not.
With a win Sunday, James will have done something no player has ever previously: Be part of a team that came back from 3-1 deficit to win the championship series. Cleveland won Games 5 and 6 with James scoring 41 points in each.
"But a loss still doesn't diminish him because LeBron virtually carried this team the last two games, him and Kyrie [Irving]," Cooper continued during a dicussion with CSNmidatlantic.com following Atlanta's loss at Washington. "It's an important game for LeBron. I think his status as far as being ranked among legendary players -- if he wins he definitely goes up there with them."
Cooper noted the James specific angle is only one part of Game 7's historic equation.
"On one hand LeBron going back to Cleveland and trying to get his team to win a first [NBA] championship. But then on the other hand you've got a team that's 73-9 and set a whole bunch of records on the way," Cooper said, who added Golden State showed its "greatness" coming back from a 3-1 hole against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals.
Comparing the Warriors to other all-time teams is a new-ish debate topic. Whether for fun or not, the specific debate of whether the Warriors could down Cooper's Lakers became a recent topic. Cooper offered a serious opinion.
"They're a good basketball team. I never thought and NBA team could win a championship shooting jump shots, but they proved me wrong on that last year," Copper copped. "The kids, they can play. The One thing they don't do is they don't beat themselves -- but I think it would be a hard matchup for them with us.
"We had size. ...I think we had the one most unblockable, unguardable shot in the [Abdul-Jabbar] skyhook. It doesn't matter if they put Draymond Green on him. He's too little. [Andrew] Bogut couldn't handle him. We win in that category. I think James Worthy would be a tough matchup for them."
As for guarding the perimeter shooting Warriors, Cooper, a one-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, believes he and fellow guard Byron Scott "could deal with Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. We'd make them take tough shots."
The Cooper plan? Force Golden State inside the 3-point arc. "You can match two's, but you can't match three's with them. I think that's the one thing we would have done. They wouldn't have gotten 25-30 3-point shots [a game]. That's not going to happen."
If the Warriors become the first team in NBA history to lose a 3-1 series lead in the finals, such comparison talk will quiet dramatically. Golden State would standalone in a way nobody desires while "King James" would strut into the best-of-the-best player conversation nearly skeptic-free.
Yes, there is plenty at stake Sunday night. Game 7 isn't just about an annual championship. Legacies are at stake.
MORE BASKETBALL: CONSPIRACY FILES: AYESHA CURRY CRIES 'FOUL'