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LeBron James’ GOAT candidacy at risk as he makes 10th NBA Finals appearance

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The Los Angeles Lakers became Western Conference champions for the first time since 2010 on Saturday. LeBron James has booked his place in his 10th NBA Finals, becoming only the fourth player ever to do so. Matthew Bowen looks at how the feat impacts James’ legacy and what it means for the Lakers…

“I got to get it done.”

After being up 2-0 in the 2009 Finals, the late, great Kobe Bryant was asked to explain his serious demeanour with the series firmly in hand. In typical Mamba fashion, Bryant simply answered ‘job’s not finished’.

Those three words seem to have been echoing around the minds of the current day Lakers roster. Two days ago, centre Dwight Howard paid tribute to Kobe in an interview, repeating the axiom when asked about the mentality of this Lakers team.

As LeBron James sat down with reporters after punching his ticket to this astonishing tenth NBA Finals in eleven years, the Lakers forward was in less than a celebratory mood. “Right now, it don’t mean s— unless I get it done,” James told ESPN after a Game Five victory in which The King scored 38 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished 10 assists.

Kobe seems to be imprinted everywhere on this Lakers team. Both literally and metaphorically. Literally, in the sense that the Lakers have worn a black and gold jersey a number of times this postseason, the jersey appropriately being named ‘the Mamba uni’s’. And also metaphorically, while wearing the Mamba uniform, Anthony Davis knocked down a three-point buzzer-beater for the win against Denver in Game Three.

Moreover, James used the phrase ‘bigger fish to fry’ in regards to winning the NBA Championship rather than just reaching it. Coincidentally, Bryant uttered those same words in 2006 in regards to accusations that Raja Bell was locking down Bryant defensively. Bryant and James were incredibly close off the court, thus leading to James feeling as if he has an obligation to win on the court for Bryant. James told reporters “Every time you put on purple and gold you think about Kobe’s legacy.”

That idea of legacy is sure to be at the forefront of James’ mind as he enters his tenth NBA Finals. To put that in perspective, James is only the fourth player in history to reach ten Finals, alongside Bill Russell (11), Sam Jones (11) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (10). In addition to that, James has reached the Finals more times than 27 other franchises, only behind the Warriors (11), Celtics (21) and Lakers (32). James is the first to reach the Finals with three different franchises. If he were to win, then he would be the first player to ever win a championship with three different teams. A factor that many were saying would spring Kawhi into the GOAT conversation.

As cliche as it might sound, it is difficult to completely fathom LeBron’s greatness. The longevity combined with the success. The potential manifested into excellence. There is a danger that we have become so well aware of James’ earth-shattering achievements on a night in and night out basis that they fall into the realm of normality. Giannis Antetokounmpo won regular-season MVP, although now it may be seen as more of a robbery than an earned victory. Additionally, James received only 16 votes for MVP. In the NFL, Bill Belichick should win every Coach of the Year Award, the same can be said about James when it comes to the MVP award.

However, this upcoming NBA Finals does pose a risk to The King. If James were to lose to either this young Celtics team or this gritty and determined Heat roster, The King would fall to 3-7 in NBA Finals, having not won one since that historic 3-1 comeback in 2016. Despite James’ previous success, is the living legend doomed to be the NBA’s Sisyphus? Condemned to roll a boulder up a hill only to see it come down, forever in the shadow of Michael Jordan? Or is The King going to silence the jackals and strengthen his legacy with his fourth ring?

If I had to bet, it’d be the latter. But as LeBron said, he’s got to get it done.

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