LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – Standing on the sidelines as his teammate Anthony Davis spoke to reporters about how his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers delivered him top spot in the NBA Finals of his career, LeBron James was asked what was the final tenth the appearance of his career means to him.
“Right now, it doesn’t mean anything unless I do it,” James told ESPN after the Lakers’ 117-107 Game 5 win against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday to win the Western Conference crown. “I must do it.”
He certainly finished the Nuggets. James scored 16 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter, going 7 for 10 from the field in the final frame. He showed the rest of his skills throughout the game, with 1
But James, the all-time number one on the NBA’s post-season scoreboard, put the ball in the bucket. According to data from Second Spectrum, his last six field goals in the fourth quarter have all been unassisted, on par with the most solo shots he has made in the fourth quarter of a playoff game of his career. It was the most points he ever scored in the fourth quarter of a clincher series, and he was successful in quite a few of those, improving to 38-10 (.792) in closing matches, the best record in those games of any player in the history of the league (minimum 25 games), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
While shooting a jump shot after a jump shot on Denver defenders – his five jumpers in the quarter have tied for the most jump shots he has had in the fourth quarter of any game since Second Spectrum began tracking in the 2013-14 – He was reminded of the first time he wore the Lakers uniform for a preseason game in San Diego two years ago. THERE. the Nuggets was playing.
“I remember that preseason game,” James told ESPN. “I remember we were running out of the tunnel. I remember the first pass I made was for the most advanced player this year. [Brandon Ingram], for a layup and it was a great moment. And I remember the first hit I hit was a kickout 3 [Nikola] Jokic. I remember. And the crowd. Damnation. It was special. It was special. “
There was no crowd on Saturday, save for a dozen Lakers family members seated in the stands of the AdventHealth Arena as COVID-19 precautions led the NBA to finish its season in a bubble where daily testing is mandatory, but they were special in their own right.
When James was asked to say a few words in the center of the pitch after white and gold confetti had fallen to commemorate the Lakers’ first trip to the finals since 2010, when Kobe Bryant led LA past his rival, the Boston Celtics, in seven games, he allowed himself to live in the moment.
“We’re going to have fun tonight, as we should, because that’s not promised every year,” said James. “There are only two teams that can advance to the finals each year. That basically means 30 players who only advance to the finals each year. We will have fun tonight, but we know we have bigger fish to fry. We understand there is a bigger goal, but we can’t take it for granted because it doesn’t happen to anyone every year “.
And not all years are quite like what the Lakers have endured to get to this point. From nearly canceling preseason games overseas, to Bryant’s tragic death in January, to a 4.5-month hiatus from coronavirus, they’ve gone through a lot.
“I’ve been refueled all year,” James told ESPN. “All year. Even during the closing. I was still training.”
Along the way, Bryant, a hard worker in his own right, became a source of inspiration and motivation, as the team broke the confusions by singing “1-2-3 Mamba!” and wore special black snakeskin print jerseys in the playoffs in his honor.
For James, who memorably echoed Bryant’s announcement that he would be skipping college to “bring my talents” to the NBA when he left Cleveland in 2010 to “bring my talents to South Beach,” his statement having “a bigger fish to fry” was just random. Bryant scornfully delivered that line during the 2006 playoffs when it was suggested that Raja Bell of the Phoenix Suns was blocking him on defense.
“He did?” James told ESPN when he was informed of the parallel phrasing. “Oh, shit. Really? Nah, I didn’t know. I didn’t know. It’s funny. There’s some crazy shit going on.”
In the sense of basketball, nothing wilder than the challenge that awaits James in the finals. If the Miami Heat – who are 3-2 over the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals – advance, he will face his old team, led by his architect, Pat Riley, who rubbed James the wrong way when he left Miami to return to Cleveland in 2014.
If Boston returns, James and the Lakers will have a chance to tie the Celtics for the most leagues in league history with 17, beating the very team in front of them to do so.
And a win would also give him his fourth career championship in the same place Bryant won his fourth: Orlando.
It’s all still at stake. Although James’s 10 appearances in the Final tie him third overall to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, behind only 11 by Sam Jones and 12 by Bill Russell; even though the Lakers have persevered so hard to get to this point, there is still a lot to do.
If James manages to end the season with a championship and finals MVP, he would become the first player ever to win that award with three franchises. It might not be Bryant playing all 20 seasons with the Lakers, or Michael Jordan going 6 out of 6 in the championship round, but it’s his authentic story.
“I just want to do my journey, because it’s my journey. I appreciate everything that has happened along the way. I mean, in everything – the highs, the lows, the highs on the pitch, the lows on the pitch, the wins and defeats, ”James said. “But I was able to, I guess as Frank Sinatra would say, ‘I did it my way.'”
Before it’s time to play Sinatra as swan song, however, James is thinking of a text from Jay-Z’s 2003 track “Public Service Announcement” as his directive.
“‘Finish breakfast,'” James told ESPN, citing Jay-Z’s way of saying you need to get the job done. “Mmm hmm. Finish your breakfast.”