The NBA Finals are set: The Los Angeles Lakers will take on the Miami Heat.
For LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, history is being made. The Lakers are taking their thirty-second trip to the Finals, the most of any NBA team. A winning outcome will tie them with the Boston Celtics for seventeen wins each, the most titles in the NBA.
That said, they have won the previous sixteen Championships on thirty-one previous attempts - just over half. By comparison, the Boston Celtics won their seventeen in twenty-one tries.
Similarly, the historical relevance of LeBron making his eighth trip to the Finals in nine seasons, and his tenth overall. That ties him at third all-time for Finals appearances along with fellow Laker great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.*
*It’s not often I go gaga over meeting a celebrity, but I had the chance to meet Kareem Abdul-Jabbar while filming a commercial in Los Angeles the year Phil Jackson took over as head coach of the Lakers. If his height wasn’t enough to make a man feel small, trying to find the right words to express appreciation for his basketball acumen while standing inches from him was.
Despite this being James’ tenth historic trip to the Finals, for this generation’s most gifted player, it is a tale of sometimes a bridesmaid, not always a bride.
LeBron has won in only three of his previous nine championship runs. A victory against the Miami Heat (where James earned his two first rings) would leave him at 40% in the win percentage. By comparison. Meryl Streep has won only three Academy Awards in twenty-one nominations, a measly 14%.
But, hey, it’s just an honor to be nominated.
Such is not the case in basketball.
In the ongoing and never-ending conversations of all time greatest, LeBron’s ability to make it to the finish line is not stellar.
Adding a ring (asterisk or not) this season will tie him with fourteen other players who won a total of four rings, all of whom have played for the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, and/or Spurs. (Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Will Perdue for those keeping score.) LeBron will be the first and only other player to cross the four win threshold with three teams since John Salley.
In some respects, legacy is everything. And decades from now there will be no doubt that the NBA as an entity responded to LeBron James. No team has had success without giving King James their full attention.
With the rankings of statistics, LeBron’s name will appear at the top repeatedly. If these NBA Finals go to six games, LeBron will land number one of all time in playoff games played. He’s already untouchable on postseason minutes played. Postseason points? LeBron has over a thousand more than Michael Jordan, the second highest postseason scorer in history.
LeBron is twenty assists (or five per game in the Finals) from passing John Stockton for third all-time. James is sixth all time in postseason rebounds behind five of the best big men in the history of the sport- Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Abdul-Jabbar.
There is nary a stat that won’t have LeBron James near the top. As the game of basketball evolves, as the rules change, and as more players display greatness, James stays ahead of the pack.
Without a doubt, LeBron James is a basketball icon.
He just doesn’t always win.
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