After the Los Angeles Lakers finished off the Miami Heat in six games to win the 2019–2020 NBA Championship last night, Adam Silver presented the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award to its recipient, LeBron Raymone James, Sr.
During Silver’s short presentation speech, he mentioned something about how James will someday have a trophy named after him.
I’ve watched James’ career from beginning to the present. I first read about him in SLAM Magazine, where they did a feature on him when he was a junior in high school. He wore adidas back then, and sometimes had his hair in cornrows. The feature even talked about how he had two versions of his autograph, to trick people somehow (I still don’t get it).
Courtesy of SLAM Magazine
The most absurd thing about that story was the chatter that James would leave high school to declare himself eligible for the NBA Draft after his junior season in high school. (At the time, many players would declare for the draft once they were finished with high school, or after a couple of seasons in college.) James was that talented that he could go earlier than early.
When LeBron did eventually get drafted to the NBA in 2003, I remember watching an interview of him with Carmelo Anthony, who I suppose is a “contemporary” of LeBron. The interviewee asked them both who would win in a game of one on one. It was pretty awkward, but James said, “Carmelo would win,” and Melo just kinda nodded and smiled.
Isn’t that funny?
LeBron James has won four NBA championships with three different teams. He most recently won of course with the Lakers, but before that he won in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers and prior to that he won in 2012 and 2013 with the Miami Heat, the team he just beat.
The 2020 Miami Heat are sort of the anti-2020 Lakers. Along with James (who is undoubtedly the best basketball player alive right now), LA also has Anthony Davis, who is a top-five basketball player. As for the Heat? Jimmy Butler, Miami’s best player, is something like a top-15 basketball player, and their second best, Bam Adebayo, is somewhere in the top-30.
There’s an interesting pattern to observe with James. “He gets his man,” is the only way I can phrase it. To elaborate, on the teams where LeBron has won championships, they usually undergo a massive roster overhaul and add players that complement LeBron very well. These changes typically include one or two top-10 players.
LeBron’s pull on his team’s roster is undeniable. We all remember in Miami when he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form his first “superteam” which led to his first two titles. Then, when LeBron went back to his second stint in Cleveland, the Cavaliers, who already had the supremely talented Kyrie Irving, traded Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love. And now most recently, the aforementioned Anthony Davis ended up on the Lakers roster.
Harry How/Getty Images
Each of these roster moves had massive impacts on the NBA, which have led to championships and ripple effects for the other teams involved. James somehow orchestrates the necessary moves to acquire players that complement his style of basketball and has been very successful at that.
Traditionally, putting a team together is the work of the higher ups in the suits. Then, the head coach works with the players he gets. And then the players have to adjust to each other and figure out how to play together.
But a LeBron James team is different. He somehow assumes the role of the higher ups by managing the roster and then he essentially works as a coach*, too.
LeBron James gets his man, by any means necessary.
The 2020 Finals was essentially over after the first game. Two of Miami’s three best players got injured in game one (Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo), leaving Jimmy Butler, their top dog, to do whatever he could to try and make it competitive. And make it competitive he did, helping the Heat steal two games with LeBron James-like performances in games three and five.
But obviously it wasn’t enough. The Heat tried different defensive schemes throughout the series, and primarily played a matchup zone (a defensive strategy where players guard an area, instead of a specific player) in the first couple games, daring the Lakers to beat them with perimeter shooting.
But no X’s and O’s coaching could have helped Miami beat Los Angeles. The Lakers were too big, too skilled, and had too much experience. But really, the short answer to why the Lakers won is because they had LeBron James, who is the most athletic player in the NBA, the smartest player in the NBA, and the most talented.
When Adam Silver said LeBron would someday have a trophy named after him, I wondered what trophy would it be? It would be strange to have the regular season NBA MVP award named after him, since he has only won four of those. The Finals MVP Award is already named after Bill Russell. Hell, not even Michael Jordan has an award named after him. So what could it possibly be?
Perhaps LeBron, once his grandiose playing career is finished, will turn to the politicking side of the National Basketball Association, and join the higher ups, trading his jersey in for suits, and his sneakers in for loafers.
If (when?) that is the case, and he joins the biz side of the Association, what better path would it be for a player of his caliber to one day assume the role of commissioner of the NBA? He has the playing experience, the rostering experience, basically the coaching experience, and he is clearly a voice that the players respond to and obey.
The NBA has done a supreme job with their Bubble experiment. They have managed to:
- Maximize their business interests to the best of what they could
- Address social justice issues
- Maintain a satisfactory product
LeBron James had a hand in all of the three points above. Who’s to say he can’t continue to do that after his playing career is done? James is famously a fan of “The Godfather” films, where men wearing suits mutter in dark rooms about business transactions. It’s a likely path for the man many consider to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The NBA is a business, after all.
LeBron James for NBA commissioner? Who knows? But what LeBron has proven is that a player can make impacts on the court, the business side, and the socio-political side. Maybe that should be the LeBron James award.
I don’t know if a basketball player can ever match or exceed what LeBron has done for the NBA. But if someone can in the future, they should receive the LeBron James Award—an award that is not doled out every year, only when it is totally deserved, for overall excellence as a participant of the National Basketball Association.
If that becomes the award, I doubt any player will ever receive it in the future. Because, simply put, no one can ever do what LeBron James has done for the game of basketball.
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*When LeBron was on the Cavaliers in 2018, they came to Portland to play the Trail Blazers. Seeing as this may have been a last chance to see one of the greatest basketball players of all time, I splurged and bought tickets to the game and ended up five rows back. Late in the game, the Blazers were up by about five points with maybe 20 seconds left, and the Cavs players were inclined to foul to extend the game. But you know what happened? LeBron, on the court gave a “finished” signal to his team and ordered them not to foul, and they obeyed their “coach.” I would have never seen this slight gesture watching the game at home or from a further back seat in the arena. LeBron also had one of his most famous dunks ever in that game, yet him “coaching” the team at the end is the part that sticks with me the most about that experience.