LeBron James didn’t need to accomplish anything with the Los Angeles Lakers, didn’t even need to keep playing, for his reputation to be secure.
King James is one of the five best NBA players of all time.
What he’s done since entering the NBA as a teenage rookie in 2003 as the No. 1 overall pick out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, is the stuff of legends.
LeBron James is 35 years old. He’s building an expanding business and entertainment empire. He can count his millions and relax at the beach every day for the next 50 years.
Instead, he’s chasing another title, chasing another special accomplishment.
The Lakers meet the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday at Walt Disney World in Florida, where LeBron James will be vying to win his fourth championship ring.
He collected back-to-back rings as the driving force of the Miami Heat — along with Dwyane Wade and Chris — in 2012 and 2013 over the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. After that, he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their lone title in 2016.
By signing with the Lakers in 2018, he put the franchise back on the map.
In the Lakers’ Game 5 victory over the pesky Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals, LeBron demonstrated once again that he is a spectacular all-around player. The proof? He finished with 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists.
Hello, NBA Finals
The Lakers, one of the NBA’s two-most stories franchises along with the Boston Celtics, are now back in the Finals for the first time since 2010, when Phil Jackson was the coach.
After that, LeBron James appeared in the NBA Finals eight consecutive times with the Heat (2011-14) and Cleveland Cavaliers (2015-18). He also suited up for the Cavs in the 2007 Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
James’ ability to play all five positions and excel in every aspect of the game elevated the Heat and the Cavaliers to perennial title contenders.
LeBron James: A model of consistency
LeBron James has played 1,265 regular-season games in his legendary career. He’s averaged 27.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. This season, those numbers were 25.3, 7.8, and 10.2.
He led the NBA in assists at age 35 for the first time.
Older, but wiser
Pro basketball is a young man’s game, but King James has gotten better — and smarter — as he’s gotten older. He controls the flow of the game. He controls his team’s mood, his team’s energy. Not the official coach, but the on-court pilot, he also holds incredible influence on the Lakers’ (and the same was true with Cleveland and Miami) personnel moves.
LeBron James is like the team emperor without official office duties on a day-to-day basis.
Through the years: LeBron James’ playoff totals
Entering the 2020 NBA Finals, LeBron James had played in 254 career playoff games, logging 41.6 minutes per game. His impact on the game is mesmerizing: 28.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.0 blocks are the numbers that tell the story. His story as a playoff performer through the years.
This season, LeBron has given the Lakers 26.7 points, 10.3 boards and 8.9 assists in the first three rounds of the playoffs at the NBA bubble.
A three-time NBA Finals MVP, King James’ court vision, strength, speed and brute force have created the modern prototype of a do-it-all player.
So what does it mean from an historic perspective to be on the verge of his 10th trip to the NBA Finals?
The numbers spell out the answer. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar appeared in 10 NBA Finals with the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks. And then there were Sam Jones (11 times) and Bill Russell (12) for the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1950s-60s.
He elevates teams to greatness
In the broader analysis, it doesn’t matter that LeBron James’ teams have lost more NBA Finals than they’ve won. He’s ensured that they’ll be a title contender practically every year, even if they made wholesale roster changes (see: Cleveland, Miami and, now, Los Angeles).
Put LeBron on the court with four other players, and there’s a good chance that team will start winning immediately.
Develop some level of cohesion, and there’s a very good chance that team steamrolls through the early playoff rounds.
With 16 All-Star appearances, LeBron James’ name is cemented in the annals of NBA history until the end of time.
Did you know?
In addition, a couple other tidbits give a glimpse of LeBron James’ unique place in NBA history.
Only two players have ever won NBA titles with three franchises: Robert Horry (1994 and ’95 with the Houston Rockets; 2000, ’01 and ’02 with the Lakers; and 2005 and ’07 with the San Antonio Spurs) and John Salley (1989 and ’90 with the Detroit Pistons; 1996 with the Chicago Bulls; 2001 with the Lakers).
Neither Horry nor Salley was the driving force of the aforementioned title-winning clubs. They were valuable role players.
On the other hand, without LeBron, the Cavs, Heat and Lakers had absolutely no chance of advancing to the Finals.
That’s the essence of his greatness.
In other words, wherever he’s gone he’s been an irreplaceable player.
LeBron reflects on trips to Finals
Speaking after the Lakers ousted the Nuggets, King James discussed what it’s taken to make trips to the Finals year after year after year.
“One, I’ve taken care of my body. I’ve been available to my teammates,” LeBron James commented. “That’s one. I sleep. I try to get as much sleep as I can. I think there’s no better recovery than sleep. And then I’ve never cheated the game as well. I’ve put so much work into my craft, so much work into the game. I think you add on to the fact that I’ve played with some great teammates and some great coaching staffs, from (Tyronn) T-Lue and his coaching staff to Erik Spoelstra and his coaching staff, and now this coaching staff with Frank Vogel.”
He added: “I’m truly blessed. They have all allowed me to be me. They have allowed me to go out and do the things that I do on the floor. Use my mind, my play and be able to command my teammates the way I do. It’s put me in position to be able to, like you said, be in the Finals nine out of 10 years.”
The stuff of legends
Want to build an all-time NBA team with an immediate shot at being a championship dynasty in any era? North America’s all-time great players would be a good place to start. Pencil in LeBron James at small forward.
If you do that, the results will be quite predictable, just like what we’ve witnessed for the past decade: LeBron James’ nine Finals appearances in 10 years. It’s the stuff of legends.
Bill Russell collected a record 11 titles in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics. Michael Jordan won six with the powerhouse Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. Add them to the lineup. Add all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and slide Russell to power forward. Put Magic Johnson in the backcourt with Air Jordan. Give major minutes to the game’s most powerful and dominant force, Wilt Chamberlain. Start with these guys. Throw Oscar Robertson into the mix, too. Start with this Magnificent Seven, and debate about other guys to fill out the rotation. For instance, find minutes for Tim Duncan.
All-time greats analyze LeBron
In 2018, Abdul-Jabbar described the essence of LeBron’s game this way: ” “LeBron is one of the best players now and his intelligent combination of team leadership, brawny lay-ups, dominating rebounding and surgical passing is elevating the game to its next level. Just as Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and others did.”
In 2016, Robertson said this: “No one has ever before seen a player quite like LeBron. He’s a five-tool player, fundamentally sound and able to do practically anything on the court. As the NBA continues to evolve, I think he is the model other players ought to emulate. … I also admire him for continuing to improve his command of the game and his basketball IQ, year after year, instead of coasting on his athleticism.”
Simply put, LeBron James has made a convincing argument that he’s quite possibly the greatest all-around player in NBA history.