What would this NBA Championship add to LeBron James’ legacy?
It’s a question that is asked every year, but in the most unprecedented season in NBA history, the more it will be asked when the Lakers resume action against the Clippers on Thursday evening.
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The Lakers had the best record in the Western Conference (49-14) when the game ended on March 11 and James will be the focal point of the restart. Los Angeles is a gambling favorite to win the 2020 Championship along with the Bucks, and those odds shouldn’t change much as long as James and Giannis Antetokounmpo stay healthy on the NBA’s campus.
What would a fourth title mean for James? Let’s take a closer look at that.
No stars, please
Let’s get that out of the way first. The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) forced the NBA to “bubble” at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida, but that doesn’t diminish the season’s legitimacy.
The Lakers play eight seeding games for the playoffs, giving them a total of 71 games in the regular season. That’s five games more than James played in 2011-12, when an exclusion shortened the season. James led Miami to an NBA championship that season, the first of his career.
The NBA plans a full postseason with the best-of-seven series beginning on August 17, and the NBA Finals starting on September 30. All of that will take place within the ‘bubble’, and it could be argued to be just as strong as the home-and-away grind of the traditional NBA playoffs.
Leads the short-handed Lakers
There is some extra pressure for James to carry this team when looking at the state of the Lakers squad.
Avery Bradley, who made 44 starts this season, has opted out of the restart. Rajon Rondo underwent thumb surgery on July 16, and the time frame for his return is six to eight weeks. Anthony Davis also has eye injuries, but he plans to play against the Clippers on Thursday.
James already leads the Lakers with 34.9 minutes per game, but he is counting on the short term while the Lakers find their rhythm in the restart.
If Los Angeles can and marches through the NBA finals, it would complete a masterful season for James in many ways.
An impressive turnaround
James’ first season in Los Angeles didn’t go to plan. The Lakers missed the playoffs with a record of 37-45 and were the definition of front office dysfunction through to court. There were questions as to whether James could restore the Lakers to their former glory.
Those have been answered on this point, especially with the addition of Davis, and James has the chance to lead Los Angeles back to the NBA finals for the first time since 2009-10. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to a championship that season, his fifth as a player.
James has played at his usual MVP level to enable that success. He averages 25.7 points per game and leads the NBA with 10.6 per game.
It would be much more impressive to lead that turnaround – during a season influenced by COVID-19 -.
Another franchise, another championship
James gets the chance to win a fourth NBA championship. With that achievement, he would join a rare club. Only two other NBA players with at least four NBA championships won those titles with three different franchises.
That exclusive group includes Robert Horry, who won seven rings with the Rockets (1994-95), Lakers (2000-02) and Spurs (2005, 2007) and John Salley, who won four rings with the Pistons (1989-90) , Bulls (1996) and Lakers (2000).
Horry and Salley, however, were role players. James would be the first NBA superstar to achieve that feat with three different teams (Cavs, Heat and Lakers). In total, 24 Hall of Famers have at least four championships. James would be on that list.
James can prove that he is the real MVP
Antetokounmpo is likely to win back-to-back MVPs. Kawhi Leonard is the reigning Final MVP and his Clippers hold second best record in the Western Conference.
Luka Doncic of Dallas and James Harden of Houston, who won the NBA MVP in 2017-18, could potentially confront James and the Lakers depending on how the seeding games and postseason play.
James can prove he is still the best in the game at age 35, and that would only add to his legacy later on.
Closing the gap with Michael Jordan
The Last Dance, ESPN’s 10-part documentary series highlighting the six Bulls championship runs with Michael Jordan, aired during the NBA break, serving as a reminder of the standard that has haunted James throughout his career.
As that debate continues, it’s important to remember that Jordan won his last championship when he was 35 years old. James, who turns 36 on December, shows no signs of slowing down and can get a step closer to that standard.
How many championship runs does James still have? That’s a fair question. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the oldest player to win the MVP award final, as he led the Lakers to the championship in 1984-85. James still has time, but this season offers a unique opportunity to add that fourth championship.
He is also under the most pressure from all players in Orlando. That comes with the territory of the face of the NBA.
So yes, this definitely counts.