No. 3: The fourth ring
Winning a chip for the Lakers made James the first player in NBA history to be the NBA Finals MVP on three different units. The Purple and Gold went 16-5 in the NBA Playoffs, led by James and Anthony Davis, defeating the Trail Blazers, Rockets, Nuggets and Heat.
This trip to the postseason totaled the sixth-highest point total James recorded in a playoff run (580), with the most triple-doubles (5) and rebounds (226). Even at 35 years old, he was uncheckable driving into the lane and a fierce orchestrator that found his teammates open 184 times.
The 2020 postseason took place in the Orlando bubble during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA restarted in the late summer after a pause in March, with every invited team on a neutral court.
No. 2: Going back-to-back
In NBA history, only seven organizations have won in consecutive years. Fresh off the Heat’s Game 7 win of the NBA Finals over the Spurs, James’ team was the sixth.
For eight years and 92 playoff games, championship jewels had eluded James. In his first year with the Heat, his crew won the East and came two wins shy of the title, losing to Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks.
That offseason, he and Dwyane Wade took a trip to the Bahamas to recalibrate. He returned the next season ravenous for a ring.
In the 2012 Playoffs, the Heat vanquished the Knicks, tangoed with the Pacers, and then encountered the Green Machine, consisting of James’ old nemeses, before the championship round. After winning the first two matches, Boston took a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Game 6 was in Boston. By James’ hands, it was destruction, and in the same vein as when Achilles hacked away at the trapped Trojans in the Scamander River. Had the Heat lost that game, I’d wager Spoelstra would have gotten tossed, and Pat Riley would have pushed the eject button on Chris Bosh for someone else.
In the 2013 NBA Finals, the Heat lost Game 5 in San Antonio and was on the verge of elimination with two games heading back to Miami. In the fourth quarter of Game 6, the hosts were down 10 points. James was the architect of the comeback, scoring 14 of his own to place the Heat in position for a kill shot.
Ray Allen’s banger in the corner, supplied by Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich taking out Tim Duncan with 28 seconds left in the game, let Bosh recover one of the most devastating offensive rebounds of all time. This moment has overshadowed James’ grand fourth-quarter resurgence. And worse yet, his magnum opus at the time two nights later in Game 7.
The Spurs challenged him by tempting him to shoot, but cheap tricks were no match.
Tim Duncan had just missed a turnaround hook over Shane Battier at close-range. With under 40 seconds left of the season, James steered to the elbow and pulled up in Kawhi Leonard’s face to put the Heat up four points.
For the second time, 364 days apart, Bill Russell handed LBJ the Finals MVP trophy.