If there is one player in the NBA right now that has a legacy that is completely solidified, it’s LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers. If James retired tomorrow, he would go down as one of the greatest to ever pick up a basketball. Yet, he may actually be the player that would benefit the most from adding another ring to his resume. Other players such as James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo obviously come to mind when the question arises, but a fourth ring for James could boost his legacy more than a first would for the others.
What a Fourth Title Would do for LeBron James’ Legacy
Six losses. No matter how you spin it, six Finals losses will never look “good” on a resume. Sure, one came as a 22-year old at the hands of prime Tim Duncan. Sure, two came against an absolutely loaded Golden State Warriors team. And of course, one can be chalked up to a bevy of injuries to his All-Star cast. But it’s still six losses.
The 2011 Finals will always be the lowest point of James’ illustrious career. He choked on the world’s grandest stage. He responded by winning three titles in the next five seasons, yet the stain on his resume remains.
I’ve long held onto the idea that players should be evaluated by what they “have” done and not what they “haven’t”, and the idea goes beyond James. Stephen Curry is a three-time NBA champion and the leagues only unanimous MVP. I don’t care that he doesn’t have a Finals MVP award. The lack of the award does not hurt his legacy. If he were to win one, though, it would certainly boost it. The same goes for James. He choked in 2011. He *did* that. But he’s also won three NBA titles. I don’t care how many he lost while putting up stellar performances. He could have lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to avoid hurting his Finals record. But he didn’t.
However, all that to say 4-6 does look quite a bit better than 3-6. If a player can win 10 Conference Finals titles and four NBA Championships, they’re doing better than almost any other player in NBA history. Who cares how many Finals losses they have.
Technically, 27 players in NBA history would still have more titles than James if he were to notch a fourth ring in Los Angeles. However, the overwhelming majority were role players on dynasty-like teams. No one would argue Robert Horry is better than Michael Jordan, even though Horry has one more ring.
To narrow the field a bit, there are only eight players in the history of the NBA to win at least four titles and a Finals MVP award. Those players are Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, John Havlicek, and Tony Parker. If James won another title, he would join that list.
THE KING IS MOVING ON 🆙
LeBron James moves past Kobe Bryant for 3rd all-time on the NBA scoring list 👏 pic.twitter.com/7XHBi1CSHb
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 26, 2020
Now, let’s play devil’s advocate and assume someone other than James wins Finals MVP. That would give him four rings and three Finals MVP awards. The only players to ever achieve those two feats are Jordan, Johnson, O’Neal, and Duncan. If James were to win Finals MVP, though, Jordan would be his only company to have four of each.
Of course, this list excludes the great Bill Russell and George Mikan who both won titles before the Finals MVP award existed. However, the point still stands. Only a handful of players in the history of the league have been able to achieve what James could reasonably clinch at the end of the 2020 season.
The Orlando Bubble Asterisk?
The main issue that could arise if James were to claim a ring this season is the potential “asterisk” some analysts argue would be put on the COVID-19 season. Even though these asterisks don’t actually exist outside of social media, some fans and media members will jump through hoops to convince people they do.
Kevin Durant is a two-time NBA Champion and Finals MVP. That fact does not change with the context of his Warriors super-team. James lost the 2015 NBA Finals. That loss doesn’t come with an asterisk just because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were injured. Whichever team wins the 2020 NBA Finals will be the NBA Champions, period.
This narrative is being set up to diminish the next NBA Champion if certain media members choose to. If the Houston Rockets win a title and James Harden finally gets a ring, his haters will claim it doesn’t count while his supporters will claim it does. The same goes for any other player, but especially LeBron James. He is one of the most polarizing players in the history of the league, so just expect mass disagreement on the validity of any of his accomplishments moving forward.
Always remember, numbers never lie. Context matters and numbers can be spun to support any argument, but they don’t lie.
His Own Place in History
Only two players in NBA history with four or more rings have done it with three franchises. The aforementioned Horry won seven titles between Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs. John Salley is the other, winning four total rings during his time with the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, and Los Angeles Lakers.
As of this writing, there are only three players in NBA history to win Finals MVP with two franchises. James is already on this list (Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers) along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers) and Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors). Leonard is also the only player in NBA history to win the award in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
With a ring and another Finals MVP, James would be the only player to ever win the award for three teams. Even if he doesn’t win Finals MVP, he will be by far the greatest player to ever win titles with three separate franchises.
He already holds numerous NBA records, but winning titles with three NBA franchises could be the factor that gives James his own unique place in league history.
Chasing the Ghost in Chicago
The main issue fans and analysts run into when discussing James comes when they bring up Michael Jordan. It’s as if the “ghost in Chicago” is the only measuring stick that matters. No matter what he does, James will likely never catch that ghost. In fact, it seems unlikely any player ever could. There could be a young star arise that wins nine championships in nine years, and he still might fall short of His Airness.
A fourth title on his 10th try would put James just two rings shy of Jordan, with four more Finals appearances. He’ll never catch that perfect Finals record that Jordan holds so dearly, but at least he would be chipping away at the gap in total titles. That has to count for something, right?
Just because James isn’t Jordan doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the most phenomenal basketball talents of all-time. Being greater than all but two or three (or even 10) players in the history of the world should never be spun in a negative light.
He doesn’t have to be Michael Jordan. He’s LeBron James, and that’s enough.
LeBron James’ Legacy
The ink is all but dry on James’ magnificent career. Whether he retires with three rings, four, or 12, he will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest to ever do it. However, in the age of instant analytics and endless debates on Twitter and ESPN, there’s always room to beef up a resume. If he can take the Lakers back to the top and etch his name into the NBA record books with all the aforementioned accolades, maybe some of his haters would shut up. Well, probably not, but maybe they could relax for a minute or two at least.
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