You can’t stop him; you can only hope to contain him! A handful of players were described like that at some point during their career, but one of the best ones was LeBron James during his Miami Heat days. In his late 20’s LeBron was at his psychical peak, combining his unreal athleticism with an excellent all-around game and mature mentality. So who could stop him at that time? The answer would surprise you. Who other than the lovable chubby forward Boris Diaw.
The french-man was widely known as one of those players that didn’t have the body of the typical basketball player. At 6’8″, Diaw weighed around 250 lbs without too much muscle. Although he was looking like your average church league center, Diaw knew how to play the game, using his high basketball IQ to control the game on both ends of the floor. To add to that, his appearance was pretty deceptive since he was strong as hell and pretty quick on his feet for his size, leading to him being tasked with checking stars on occasional nights. His most memorable defensive assignment. LeBron James in back-to-back finals.
In the epic 2013 Finals, LeBron and the Heat would manage to squeeze by inches and win it all, but in 2014 the San Antonio Spurs managed to get their revenge by blowing the Heat off the floor in five easy games. That Spurs team was deep and unbelievably cohesive, creating one of the most beautiful basketball styles ever. It was led by household names like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and others, but Boris Diaw also significantly impacted their success.
Diaw wasn’t stuffing the box score, but his presence was felt in the sense of taking on the task of checking LeBron James, the only Heat player that felt like playing in the 2014 Finals. Diaw naturally couldn’t stop him completely, but he made him work for everything, tired him out, which led to LeBron being less efficient. On the “Real Ones” podcast with Logan Murdock and Raja Bell: Diaw spoke about that matchup with LeBron, how he used his frame to stop him and if he could guard LeBron today, considering he evolved his game to another level.
“At the time he was different. People were asking me that also, because I was watching the last finals and he was still going off and he was amazing in those finals. But I’m like, he’s better now than he was back then. I don’t think I could’ve guarded him the same way now… because back then his shot was not as reliable as it is now. So pretty much it was like, pick your poison. I was taller and big, so that’s why I could guard him closer to the basket because I could match. I was maybe heavier than him as well… Yes, deceptively quick. I had long reach, and long arms, you know back up a little bit, give him some space. All I wanted to do was him not going by me. So as long as he was shooting over me, then it was like, okay what is the percentage gonna be.”Boris Diaw, via The Real Ones
Back then, the only aspect of LeBron’s game that needed improvement was his jump shot. He could shoot from long-range, but he was far too inconsistent to rely on it with confidence. Diaw was clever, so he used that to his advantage. But when we see LeBron today hitting no-look threes or logo threes, we can say he has evolved that final piece of his game to the level that he is now almost unstoppable on the court. Even Diaw had to admit that today he wouldn’t stand a chance against LeBron.