I have to admit, I had my reservations on LeBron James leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the Finals of the National Basketball Association (NBA) bubble in Florida.
The Lakers tumbled up and down in their NBA bubble games before settling into a groove in the Playoffs.
I thought for sure that Damian Lillard’s Trailblazers would push the Lakers to at least six games in the first round. I also felt that the Houston Rockets should have played better against James and the Lakers in the second round, and I really expected the Denver Nuggets to not go down in five in the Western Conference Finals.
Alas, here we are. LeBron will play in his ninth NBA Finals in the last ten years, leading the Lakers as they set their sights on netting championship banner No. 17.
I am not the biggest Lebron fan out there, and it will take much more for me to consider him the Greatest of All Time. Still, one couldn’t help but marvel at how James has been so consistently successful at reaching the Finals practically year in and year out.
He first did it when this was still a big man’s game in 2007 against the San Antonio Spurs when. He notoriously continued to do it in the superteam era with the Miami Heat, and is still at it even in this time when analytics-driven pace-and-space is the du jour style of play.
LeBron has literally transcended eras in the NBA’s ultramodern existence.
Think about it from a global business perspective: When LeBron first qualified for the NBA Finals, Wal-Mart was still the world’s biggest company.
When Miami’s Big Three finally won its first title in 2012, Facebook just acquired Instagram for $1 billion.
LeBron broke the curse in Cleveland in the same year the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in 2016.
Now, however, in a potentially dramatic but poetic turn of events, LeBron is favored to give the Lakers another title months after the demise of legendary Laker, global basketball ambassador, and his close friend, Kobe Bryant.
For me, that seems to be what’s silently driving LeBron in the postseason.
I mean, of course he cares about title No. 4. I’m sure he would want to increase his NBA Finals winning percentage, continue to chase Michael Jordan’s legacy, and he would love to give Anthony Davis a ring.
But at LeBron’s core, I think this is about winning for Kobe — for his family, for his community, and for his team.
This is, after all, something he referenced after closing out the Nuggets in Game 5.
“Every time you put on purple and gold, you think about his (Bryant) legacy and what he meant to this franchise for 20-plus years. That drive to always want to be victorious, it stops you from sleeping. You sacrifice a lot of things. You sacrifice your family at times because you’re so driven to be so great that other things fall by the wayside at times. I understand that. I’m one of the few that can understand the mindset that he played.”
Outside of his years in Cleveland, I don’t really root for LeBron in the Finals, but that may just change this year — for Kobe.