At Four Rings, LeBron James is Now Chasing the Title of the Greatest of All Time
LeBron James reignited the debate over who is the greatest basketball player of all time as he nabbed his fourth NBA title Sunday after leading his Los Angeles Lakers through a season of adversity. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says it was a hard fought championship in more ways than one.
Turning around the Lakers
At 35, LeBron has "a lot of mileage" on his body, Pluto said. He entered the league at 18, playing 82 games a season when most college players that age are playing around 30. During his 17 seasons, he's played in 260 playoff games, the most all time. He's also never missed a playoff game.
But his two seasons in Los Angeles haven't been easy. The team was floundering when he signed in 2018. They didn't even make the playoffs last season with James on board.
"For the first time in his career, this is in the '18-19 season, he suffered a significant injury, a groin problem. He missed over 20 games," Pluto said.
Pluto said what's remarkable is that usually injuries to NBA players with that many "miles" tend to snowball, and eventually end their careers.
"He comes back seemingly stronger than before. And he played some of the best basketball of his career," he said.
While the Lakers signed Anthony Davis to give James some help, Pluto said it was James who carried the team. He averaged 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 8.5 assists during the NBA Finals.
"Maybe in his own mind, 'This cements me as the greatest player.' That debate can go on, [but] we are seeing one of the greatest chapters of NBA pro basketball being written right in front of our eyes."
A season in the "bubble"
Pluto said it was also significant how James handled the NBA's shutdown in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"You wonder in the [time] they're off, what does that do to him physically? Yes, he could rest, but they're not able to work out."
Pluto said James, who's known to be a disciplined player, likely thrived in the Orlando bubble when the NBA restarted the season in late July.
"I want my damn respect, too"
During his on-court interview after winning his fourth title, James said he wanted respect for the Lakers and his teammates. He also said he wanted some respect, too.
Pluto said past conversations he's had with James' high school coach, Keith Dambrot can provide some context.
"He said LeBron likes to create in his own mind that people don't respect him and that's a way of, 'I'll show them.' It's part of his internal mechanism to keep driving," he said.
Four rings, three teams
Pluto said it's unprecedented for a player to win NBA titles with three different teams. James did it twice in Miami, once in Cleveland, and one more time in Los Angeles.
"I'm sure there's some guy who was a bench guy who's floated, and it seems wherever he goes he's won a title. But when you look at the key player, in the days of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, you didn't jump from team to team. Free agency wasn't that big of a thing," Pluto said.
Chasing down the GOAT
James' fourth NBA title has reignited the debate over who is the greatest basketball player of all time. That title has belonged to Michael Jordan, who won six titles with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. James grew up idolizing the superstar and has worn his No. 23 as homage.
"Can he go a couple more years? You think that 35 is not that old, but it's almost like being a 40 year old at basketball age," Pluto said.