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Thursday, October 22, 2020

LeBron James Solidifies Himself As The Greatest Player Of All Time As The NBA Bubble Experiment Ends

Four-time champion, four-time Finals MVP, four-time regular-season MVP, and two gold medals, LeBron James has created a legacy few athletes in history achieved. The 16-time All-Star captured his elusive fourth title against the Miami Heat in a blowout victory in Game 6.

“I want my damn respect, too,” LeBron James candidly stated to the world after the win. Finishing with 28 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists, James quickly put the Miami Heat on notice as his team jumped to a large lead early in the game.

As LeBron held the championship trophy in the air, the NBA bubble experiment comes to an end as well. The coronavirus pandemic changed the way audiences consumed their entertainment. From movies to sports, the world effectively shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The NBA suspended its season on March 11, 2020, stunning sports fans as all other active leagues quickly followed suit.

As always, the NBA has been at the forefront of decision-making that affects all other sports leagues. Whether it was taking the steps in the initial shutdown, creating the concept of playing in a confined isolated area, or the wisdom to stand with players in their fight for racial equality, the NBA has always been one step ahead. Adam Silver indeed deserves all his flowers for the achievement of the NBA bubble. With strict medical guidelines and rigorous virus testing policy, the bubble provided something to the world that they desperately needed, levity.

“It was a bit overwhelming to see,” Silver told Sports Illustrated in an interview. “To see our players together playing basketball, that what we had worked through over many months on paper, on our computer screens, had come to life, I’d say it was moving to me.”

To give the fans something to be excited about and enjoy, the players needed to sacrifice their daily lives. In a blink of an eye, players were no longer to see their family for the next 3 months, their lives would essentially be out of hotel rooms, with their only focus on the game. All of those struggles washed away from the faces of the Los Angeles Lakers as they celebrated in the final game of the NBA Bubble.

Though players were saved the flights from city to city, they were robbed of the experience of playing in front of fans. The concept of a home-court advantage was all but gone, and the energy players got from both the cheers of a home game and the boos of an away game was stripped away. LeBron James, who his doubters always mentioned couldn’t achieve success in the Western Conference like he had in the East. Not only did James get the top spot in the conference, he gentlemen swept the West as well. Losing home court advantage, along with the added challenge of being away from family made this championship run one of the hardest in NBA history.

Despite what some sports pundits might think, this NBA championship will not have an asterisk next to it. Nothing about this playoff run was easy, nor was the game handed to anyone on a silver platter. With the expectation that the 2021-22 season will not be played in a bubble, this season was quite literally, once in a lifetime. LeBron James and his Los Angeles Lakers not only embraced the challenge, they never let their foot off the gas.

LeBron James winning a championship in this unique NBA bubble only adds to the myth that the legend builds around him. Outside of his success winning ball games, James is also #1 all-time in Playoff minutes, points, wins and steals. He is at the top spot in NBA history in Finals triple-doubles. He is also the only NBA player to have at least 34,000 points and a pair of 9000 assists and rebounds. He is the only player in NBA history to win Finals MVP with three different teams.

The argument for ‘Greatest of All Time’ or the G.O.A.T. has been debated for years but LeBron’s case has never been stronger than now. Facing competition that few other players in NBA history have faced, LeBron has had to battle through the championship-winning Big-3 Celtics, the dynastic San Antonio Spurs, and the historic Golden State Warriors. In 2020, off-court challenges of COVID-19, social and racial issues that were always bigger than the game of basketball, and a claustrophobic bubble with no family or fans make this run one of his most challenging yet.

While many pundits label six rings as the minimum to be considered the greatest, NBA players have shown time and again that rings are not everything. Shaq is the most dominant player of all time despite only winning four rings. The aura and legacy of Kobe Bryant are equal to, if not higher than Jordan among the youth. If rings were everything, Bill Russell would be the greatest of all time. If six rings and six MVPs were the standards, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would be the greatest. At the end of the day, greatness is in the eye of the beholder and LeBron James has continued to win the hearts and minds of both young and old, including former NBA champions.

Isiah Thomas, two-time NBA champion and a player that has gone against Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan in their primes were candid about LeBron’s place in history. “The best and most “complete” player I have seen in my lifetime is @KingJames on and off the floor. He passed the eye test and the numbers confirm what my eyes have seen in every statistical category. #Goat let it be known!”

LeBron’s on-the-court efforts are only surpassed by his off-the-court initiatives. Since entering the league, LeBron has never been shy of speaking out against systemic racism and social issues. He led his championship Miami Heat team in putting on their hoods to stand in solidarity with Trayvon Martin. When told to shut up and dribble by Fox News host Laura Ingraham, James responded by making his voice louder. James has empowered and uplifted his fellow athletes across all sports and it did not stop there. In entertainment, LeBron’s SpringHill Company made sure to higher people of color and women at high rates. In politics, LeBron launched More Than A Vote, a platform dedicated to empowering Black voters and fighting voter suppression. His I PROMISE institute created an incubating environment for students in his home town of Akron.

The NBA Bubble was a success that is hopefully never needed again. While brilliantly executed and zero positive COVID-19 tests throughout the process, it was an ordeal for players and coaching staff to manage. On the TV rating side, the NBA was up against the NFL season, MLB playoffs, and an ever inching Presidential Election. Despite that, fans are tuning in and LeBron’s star power has never been higher. When LeBron James came to Los Angeles, the pressure was on him to bring another championship to the historic franchise.

“It means a lot to represent this franchise,” LeBron said. “I told Jeanie [Buss] when I came here that I was going to put this franchise back in the position it belongs. For me to be part of some such a historical franchise, it’s an unbelievable feeling, not only for myself and my teammates but for the organization, for the coaches, for the trainers.” James continued. “We just want our respect, Rob [Pelinka] want his respect, coach Vogel wants his respect, the Lakers organization wants there respect and I want my damn respect, too.”

LeBron James has never run away from the challenge, he runs towards them. In 2014, he left a flawless Miami Heat championship culture to a broken and battered Cleveland Cavaliers team and brought them their first championship in 2016. LeBron did the same for the LA Lakers, truly showcasing his greatness is unparalleled in NBA history.

Is LeBron James the greatest player of all time? If you ask James, he would let us as viewers decide. For many, the decision has been made. Greatest. Player. Of. All. Time.

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