What LeBron James’ fourth NBA title means for his legacy

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James reacts after winning the 2020 NBA title. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James reacts after winning the 2020 NBA title. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

LeBron James, who just won his fourth NBA title, continues to amaze.

Once the NBA season came to a halt back in March, many wondered if there would even be a conclusion to the 2019-20 season due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Then once in the NBA’s Orlando bubble, the season nearly came to a halt after teams began protesting racial injustice.

But through it all, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers eventually persevered to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy. And they did so with a very impressive run.

This championship now gives James the fourth ring of his illustrious 17-year career, with the last before of course via historic 3-1 comeback with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, and once again starts up the conversation of legacy.

We’ll take a closer look at that here regarding LeBron after ring #4.

LeBron was sensational in the six-game NBA Finals series against the Miami Heat, averaging 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists while shooting 59.1 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from three-point land.

These numbers are even more staggering when you factor in this is LeBron’s 17th season, and he has now played in 260 career playoff games and logged 10,811 playoff minutes. James’ fourth title puts him in truly rare company. He is currently the only player to win Finals MVP with three different teams, as h/t ESPN.

In the clinching Game 6, LeBron put up 28 points, 14 rebounds and ten assists, which is significant for a couple of reasons. This game was LeBron’s 12th NBA Finals game with more than 25 points, ten rebounds, and five assists. For comparison, nobody in NBA history has more than four such games, as noted by Forbes‘ Tommy Beer.

The Game 6 performance also game LeBron his 11th career NBA Finals triple-double, distancing himself from No. 2 on that list, Magic Johnson, who had eight career Finals triple-doubles.

Staying on the topic of NBA Finals statistical categories, LeBron James is one of only two players to total at least 150 points, 50 rebounds and 50 assists in a single NBA Finals series. The other player to accomplish that feat is Jimmy Butler this season.

However, here is what sets LeBron apart. This year’s NBA Finals is the FOURTH time James has hit 150 points, 50 rebounds and 50 assists in a Finals series, as pointed out by Basketball Reference founder Justin Kubatko, and you can view more as h/t Kubatko on LBJ here.

Despite all these statistics, there are still plenty of detractors when it comes to James. The latest argument to seemingly pop up is that this season’s championship is tainted because of the situation of being in the bubble.

But could it be that this year’s championship for LeBron was the toughest of the four rings he won, and even more difficult than with the Cavs over the Golden State Warriors in 2016?

Think about it, these playoffs took place in the middle of a global pandemic, and the teams were isolated away from their everyday lives from mid-July (before seeding games) through mid-October.

Given everything going on outside of the bubble, it could have been easy to get distracted or lose focus. However, the Lakers (and James) kept their eyes on the prize, as Mark Jackson seemingly hit on here in an appearance on ESPN’s First Take.

While in a different scenario than ever before, James still had to deal with the same media attention and scrutiny from the very beginning. First, it was how the Portland Trail Blazers would challenge and possibly even upset the Lakers, but the Lakers won in five games.

Then it was the Houston Rockets. After a Game 1 loss by the Lakers, it was back to “the sky is falling” cries from the media, but then the Lakers would put the series away in five games. Next, we heard they were lucky to avoid the LA Clippers (who failed to hold onto a 3-1 lead versus the Denver Nuggets), and the critics seemingly discounted Denver as not being a true contender in comparison.

Lastly, the narrative surrounding the fifth-seeded Miami Heat was it seemed that they were lucky even to be there, and the Lakers were lucky to avoid perhaps the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, etc. It is almost comical how James’ detractors in the media continuously move the expectations and goals for LeBron.

If LeBron James wins a series in five games, we hear “Another easy path to the Finals for LeBron,” but then the minute the Lakers lost a game, the narrative switched to “Is LeBron in trouble?”

But enough of James’ disrespect, let’s go back to the numbers because those do not lie. Where LeBron’s name appears on the all-time playoff list categories just highlights how versatile and unique he is as a player.

James is first all-time in points (7,491), sixth in rebounds (2,348), second in assists (1,841) and first in steals (945).

More to the point of James being a player that others in the league want to play alongside of, Tristan Thompson, who played four years with him on the Cleveland Cavaliers, made a great point in his recent appearance on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd. Then, he brought up the fact that James helped him earn a big contract for being “a role player.”

It is the fact that James makes those around him better, and if you are willing to put egos aside and know LeBron is always going to be the main story, there will be team success.

As for the James vs. Michael Jordan “Greatest of All-Time” debate, that is a conversation better left for another day. There are those who will side with Jordan, and they have quite an argument, as do those who side with LeBron.

Sticking to LeBron’s legacy, though he will be 36 years old when the next NBA season tips off, James still shows no signs of slowing down, which is also a testament to his legacy and greatness. The fact that he’s closing in on two decades of dominance is quite absurd in all honesty.

In sports, we see many flashes in the pan, or periods of sustained success, but rarely at the level we are seeing out of James.

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While championships are not the end, be-all when it comes to legacy, they sure do not hurt, and this most recent title has just highlighted the greatness James has displayed over his 17-year career.