LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — LeBron James has made it clear that his goal is to surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest player in basketball history.
Sunday night, James took a step closer to doing so.
James was named the 2020 NBA Finals MVP for leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their first championship in a decade and winning the fourth title of his career with a 106-93 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 6. James, who previously won Finals MVP in 2012 and ’13 with the Heat and in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, is the first player in NBA history to win the award with three different franchises.
Winning his fourth Finals MVP moves him out of a tie with Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal and into second all time — trailing only Jordan, who won the award six times.
James capped his 17th season in the league with a virtuoso run through the postseason, shooting well over 50% from the field while also running the Lakers’ offense virtually every possession he was on the court. He also displayed a commitment on the other end of the court, playing a key role in a suffocating defensive unit. Most importantly, James outdueled Jimmy Butler in what was an all-time classic matchup throughout the Finals, including the Lakers’ star going off for 40 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in Game 5, and 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 6.
“This was very challenging, and very difficult,” James said afterward. “It played with your mind, and it played with your body. You’re away from some of the things you’re so accustomed to [that] make you the professional you are.
“This is right up there with one of the greatest accomplishments I have.”
James delivering a 17th overall championship to the Lakers, who last won a title in 2010, came after a disappointing first season in Los Angeles. Following their Christmas Day 2018 win over the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers were 20-14 and in fourth place in the Western Conference. But James suffered the first major injury of his career in that game, a strained groin that kept him out more than a month. By the time he returned, the Lakers had fallen to 10th in the West.
James ended up failing to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2005.
In summer of 2019, general manager Rob Pelinka swung a massive trade for Anthony Davis, an excellent partner for James who helped quickly turn around the franchise.
“I can’t really explain it,” James said of what makes his partnership with Davis so special. “It’s just certain things you know. In any type of relationship, you kinda just feel, you know, that vibe, you can have that respect. You have that drive, and sometimes you can’t explain what links you with somebody, and that’s organic.”
That partnership fueled the Lakers to quickly establish on-court chemistry and success during the regular season before James, who averaged a league-leading and career-high 10.2 assists in the regular season, again proved to be indomitable in the crucible of the playoffs.
After the Portland Trail Blazers won Game 1 of the first round, James averaged 34.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists over the final three games of that series. He and the rest of the Lakers overwhelmed the Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals. His defense on Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray helped put the Lakers in the Finals. And then his drive to continue willing the Lakers forward allowed them to survive a stiff test from a resolute Heat team.
“I think, personally, thinking I have something to prove fuels me,” James said. “And it fueled me over this last year and a half since my injury.
“It fueled me because no matter what I’ve done in my career up until this point, there’s still rumblings of doubt, or comparing me to the history of the game, and, ‘Has he done this? Has he done that?’
“So, having that in my head, having that in my mind, saying to myself, ‘Why not still have something to prove?’ I think it fuels me.”
James also made sure that the Lakers stayed unified and pushed toward their shared goal throughout their run in the bubble.
“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” James said on NBA Finals media day of playing in the bubble. “But I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to compete for a championship. That was my mindset once I entered the bubble. … I’ve been as locked in as I’ve ever been in my career.”
James’ fourth championship gives him more rings than any other active player, and it moves him to within one title of a group of 13 players who have won five, including Johnson, Duncan and the late Kobe Bryant. With Davis all but certain to remain in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future, the 35-year-old James should have an opportunity to add more. For now, though, he and the Lakers will be quite content to celebrate this one.
“I have always believed in LeBron James,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen, and if you think you know, you don’t know, OK, until you’re around him every day. You’re coaching him, you’re seeing his mind, you’re seeing his adjustments, seeing the way he leads the group. You think you know … [but] you don’t know. It’s just been a remarkable experience coaching him and seeing him take this group that was not in the playoffs last year, the roster was put together, you know, overnight, and just taking a group and leading us to the promised land, so they say.
“He was terrific the entire season leading us, and I can’t say enough about him.”