Analysis: LeBron James has done it again, and did it his way
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida (AP) - He went to Miami and became a champion.
He returned to Cleveland and won another title.
He went to Los Angeles and now the Lakers are back on top of the basketball world.
LeBron James, love him or hate him, is now in his own category. He has run three franchises to NBA titles, which no one has done before. His legacy was complete long before Sunday night when the Los Angeles Lakers became NBA champions for the 17th time by defeating the Miami Heat and winning the title to end a season like no other in a bubble like no other.
But that legacy is just a little brighter now.
"I think, as Frank Sinatra would say, I did it my way," James said earlier in these playoffs.
That is not an issue.
He has four titles. He's a four-time NBA Finals MVP, the second to win that many. He's done everything with the NBA's greatest purpose on his back, with every act and word questioned and often criticized.
James has become the epitome of the independent superstar athlete, which many try to be but few even stand a chance to prevail. He does what he wants, when he wants, how he wants and lets it work. Bill Russell will forever have more rings and Michael Jordan will forever be the choice of many as the greatest player in the NBA. And that's fine with James, who went his own way.
"The basketball game will pass me by," said James as the title emerged. “As this game progresses, there will be a new group of young children, vets and newbies. So I can't worry about the floor. How I move, how I walk, what I preach, what I talk about, how I inspire the next generation, are most important to me. "
He never forgot that he was once a broke kid from Akron, Ohio. If he's not already a billionaire, that's where he's going. He's now on a Wheaties box and says the reveal last week was "one of the best moments of my life". He started a school and goes into business there. He is actively trying to get more people, especially blacks, to vote than ever before.
"I just hope I make my boys proud and that's all I care about," James said. “I make my boys proud, make the fan base proud, my family back home, I can't wait to get back to their home in Akron, Ohio, we did it again - and that's what it's about. "
Oh, if that wasn't enough, he delivered a championship to a Lakers franchise that went 10 years without one in a year when they needed it most, and left them after all the tears of fear that This was followed by tears of joy weeping death of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash in January.
"I think it's remarkable what LeBron is still doing at his age," said Denver coach Michael Malone of James. "The minutes he plays, how effective he is on both ends of the floor and the impact he has on both ends of the floor, his will to win is just incredible."
The 35-year-old James finished this postseason with 580 points; Nobody his age had ever done that. He had 184 templates; Nobody his age had ever done that. If he slows down, he won't show it. He had 32 points in his first playoff game 14 years ago, which he has exceeded six times this postseason.
"He showed why he is the player he is, why he had the career and legacy that he continues to build," said Jimmy Butler of Miami.
James is 4,148 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means he will have to play at least two more full seasons to hit that mark. Sunday was his 260th career playoff appearance, when Derek Fisher overtook the all-time record. He was All-NBA for the 16th time that season, a record. He started his 16th straight All-Star game this season, another record. This season more fans chose him as MVP than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won the award.
There's nothing left to prove on the basketball court.
On the other hand, there has been nothing left to prove for some time.
"I think the story is told how to tell and how to write it," said James. "But I don't live my life thinking of legacy. What I do off the ground means more to me than what I do on the ground."
What he's done on and off the floor is how legends are defined.
"I just think it's a real testament to his greatness to keep that kind of success going year after year," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “Different uniforms. New players and new teams follow him. It is real proof of that commitment. He saw everything. At this point in his career, it's all about winning. "
Others won more. But nobody in the NBA has won like James.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds (at) ap.org
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