The NBA commissioner traditionally hands the Larry O’Brien Trophy to the championship team’s owner. But when Adam Silver presented the trophy Sunday, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss – at a microphone stand a few feet away, ostensibly due to coronavirus concerns – yelled, “You guys, come take the trophy” to players.
LeBron James, standing the background adjusting his championship hat, perked up.
There’d be no player more fitting to break the trend of owners receiving the trophy first. LeBron has bucked traditional hierarchies, lead an era of player empowerment that usurps some control from owners. This was his moment to take the spotlight in yet another way.
In perfect jester form, J.R. Smith was already sneaking around to grab the Larry O’Brien. But the trophy still eventually landed in LeBron’s hands.
It always does.
With the Heat. With the Cavaliers. And now with the Lakers.
Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all-time. Can LeBron catch him? Yes. Even at 35, LeBron still has a case as the best player in the world. But LeBron’s fourth ring – won in the bubble against relatively weak competition – isn’t bridging the gap.
Instead, LeBron – the first player to win Finals MVP with three different franchises – is transcending the debate.
He has built a dynasty of one.
LeBron holds unprecedented sway in how his teams operate – so much so that he jumps from one to another, earning rings for everyone involved along the way.
Cleveland had little clue how to properly support him as a young player trying to grow into a champion. So, he teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. That partnership proved extremely fruitful for all sides, but LeBron felt Heat owner Micky Arison wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain.
So, LeBron found someone who would – Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. In the ultimate flexing of player power, LeBron demanded unconditional spending. Gilbert complied. The Cavaliers paid big luxury-tax bills and traded draft picks all in the name of giving LeBron the best chance of winning immediately. That paid off with the oh-so-satisfying 2016 title.
But the cupboard eventually ran bare. Kyrie Irving asked out. Veterans on expensive contracts became impediments. The influx of young talent slowed as draft picks conveyed elsewhere.
While Cleveland depleted itself, the Lakers positioned themselves in advance for just the chance to get LeBron.
This is why.
He immediately elevates his franchise to a higher level. Even after the Lakers missed the playoffs last season, they remained attractive. LeBron lured Anthony Davis to Los Angeles (eased by their shared agent, LeBron-empowered Rich Paul).
The Lakers traded a boatload of young players and draft picks for Davis. But LeBron opens a championship window, and it’s essential to take advantage while he remains in his prime. Already lasting so long, it could end at any time.
LeBron has now won 39 playoff series – more than any other star. (Derek Fisher has won 40, and Robert Horry has also won 39.) In this postseason run, LeBron surpassed Tim Duncan (35) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (37):
As you’ll hear during the eternal GOAT arguments that will ring loudly however long this offseasons lasts, Jordan was incredible. His singular excellence made the Bulls feel invincible. He won championships his last six full seasons with Chicago.
But more than two decades later, Jordan is still lamenting a missed opportunity to chase a seventh title.
LeBron would never leave his fate up to an owner and general manager like that. If the executives aren’t matching his ambitions, LeBron will do whatever it takes – including leave. He’ll win on his own terms.
Hardened by disapointment in his first Cleveland tenure, educated by Miami’s championship culture, assured by his title back with the Cavs, connected by the agent he empowered… LeBron is the complete package
He’s a perennial one-man championship contender in search of the right supporting pieces (and he darned sure found them in Los Angeles).
He’s the team.