The 2020 NBA Finals mean a lot for LeBron James’s legacy.
The stage is set. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat will square off for Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Finals Wednesday night in the bubble. LeBron James & Anthony Davis will go head to head with Jimmy Butler and friends to cap off this everlasting season.
There are tons of storylines for both teams going into the series, with neither team being favored for a championship dating back to the beginning of the season. James will square off against his old coach, Erik Spoelstra, who knows a thing or two about his game.
The Heat are undoubtedly entering the Finals as underdogs, but this Lakers team has been highly underrated dating back to last summer, and LeBron hasn’t received much credit for what he’s accomplished thus far with this group.
With LeBron going down last year on Christmas, he missed a chunk of the remainder of the 2018-19 season, leaving many questioning whether James could still compete for a championship, or if he was still the best player alive.
When the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis last summer, it immediately gave them the most formidable duo in the NBA. But with little cap space to work with and much of their young core gone, they had to make things work.
Rob Pelinka brought on much of the current group on minimum contracts with the exception of Danny Green, essentially making things a toss-up in terms of production. But the NBA’s best duo has willed their way to this year’s NBA Finals despite analysts often tossing them to the side for the likes of the Clippers & Bucks all season long.
Nevertheless, LeBron James and his Lakers are here now, which springs the question: what does a Finals win mean for James’ legacy?
In James’ first postseason with the Lakers he gentlemen’s swept his way through the Western Conference, eliminating the “weak east” excuse many analysts used to discredit him. Every round provided a different narrative.
Prior to round 1, the Lakers clinched the first seed despite poor play during the eight-game stretch that served as the remainder of the regular season in the bubble. The red hot Trailblazers were coming off of a few great wins and insane performances from star guard Damian Lillard.
Going into the series, they were called “an abnormal eighth seed” and many experts said they’d give the Lakers a hard time — perhaps even beat them. When the Lakers dismantled them in five games, stories read “the first seed Lakers were supposed to win.”
Entering round 2, the Lakers were facing the small-ball Rockets, who despite barely escaping the first round showed good signs moving forward. Experts said the Lakers couldn’t keep up or switch well enough with the small Rockets.
Who was going to guard the Rockets’ two MVP caliber guards? The Lakers had no bonafide perimeter defender. But, yet again the Lakers made adjustments and dismantled them in five games.
Entering the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets had just come back from a 3-1 deficit — for the second time this postseason — to bring down the heavily favored Clippers and advance. Experts said the Lakers were no match for the team that brought down the championship favorites.
Even if the Lakers went up in the series, it was nothing for Denver because they were used to playing from behind. That didn’t hold true either. The Lakers swiftly ended the series in five games, again.
This made them the third Western Conference team since 2000 to advance to the Finals without needing more than five games in a series. The first two? the 2001 Lakers and the 2017 Warriors.
Analysts went from saying the Lakers have the hardest road to the Finals ever in hopes that they’d lose to quickly saying that the Lakers were supposed to get this far as a first seed, and were lucky to not have to face the Clippers. But the facts still remain. The Lakers willed their way through the Western Conference with ease.
Now James is back in the NBA Finals after missing the playoffs last year. It’s his 10th Finals trip, and his ninth in the last 10 years. James and Davis have willed a team compiled of “washed up” veterans to the Finals after constantly being placed behind other teams as favorites for the championship.
Bottom line is that the Lakers may be the most disrespected first seed in playoff history. Moreover, James continues to be the most disrespected superstar.
At almost 36 years old, LeBron James is still playing an elite brand of basketball. He entered the playoffs coming off an MVP caliber season, leading the league in assists.
The amount of looks he creates for himself and his teammates is unfathomable, especially at his age. The ability for him to still have such a great regular season and still charge his way through the playoffs head first should not be overlooked.
LeBron James is often considered inferior as a basketball player to Michael Jordan by analysts to this day. Some analysts don’t even consider him a top-three player of all time. He’s had his fair share of Finals losses — many of which were against severely better teams.
The teams he’s been able to drag with him to the Finals in the last several years have been insanely outmatched. But he’s here now, and probably with the best chance he’s had at snagging a title in some time. But that doesn’t make this postseason run any less impressive.
The bubble has been intriguing, to say the least. Moreover, it’s been a challenge. A challenge that had never been seen before by teams prior. Some have said that this year’s championship will forever hold an asterisk.
But truthfully, this may be one of the most difficult championships of all time, if not the most difficult. There are no crowds in the bubble. There is no home-court advantage. It’s just two teams competing every night out. This has made the bubble a challenging experience for many teams. Nevertheless, it will be an impressive win for either team.
Considering all the longevity and consistent success James has had taking with taking different teams between different organizations to the Finals, a win in this year’s Finals would further transcend his legacy within the game’s history.
James has his blemishes within his legacy such as the 2011 Finals loss. But a win in this year’s Finals would give him two of the most impressive wins of all time, following the 2016 Finals win where James and his Cavaliers willed their way back from a 3-1 against the 73-9 Warriors. With a loss, it may serve as another blemish on his legacy.
LeBron James is coming off of a strong performance against Denver, putting up a 38 point triple-double to close out the series. He must continue to hold up that standard of play in order to beat the Heat and add to his legacy.
He may not need to win Finals MVP if Davis plays well, but he just needs a win here, and he has to be a big part of it. He has to close games. If he can accomplish that, James can further his case in the GOAT conversation.