We might be in store for something very rare in the NBA — a Finals that doesn’t include LeBron James. With the Lakers down 3-2 to the Phoenix Suns, the possibility is becoming more and more likely that the defending champs won’t make it out of the first round. Not seeing Lebron making a deep playoff run would be a level of parity that we haven’t had much of over the past decade and a half.
There are really cool statistics, and then there are absurd statistics. Here’s one of the latter: Since 2007, LeBron James has participated in 10 of 14 NBA Finals. That’s 71 percent. He was in eight Finals in a row between 2011 and 2018, and nine of the last 10 — with three different teams.
This isn’t a Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debate piece, but, just by way of comparison, Jordan made six playoff appearances over an eight-year stretch, but he won every time he got there. I know that you know this. We all do, because every talking head continues to pound this into our skulls anytime the Jordan vs. James debate rears its ugly head.
Is James in championship “Mount Rushmore” territory (and not the South Dakota Lakota land that we stole and built really big heads on, because Uhmericuh, but I digress) of most dominant athletes ever? Tom Brady has the most Super Bowl appearances (and victories) of any NFL player of all time, with seven rings in 10 appearances. Serena Williams has won the most Grand Slam singles titles (23) in the Open era. Yogi Bera has the most World Series wins (10) and appearances (14) in MLB history.
Bill Russell (11 wins, 12 appearances) and Sam Jones (10 wins, 11 appearances) still have James beat, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six wins, 10 appearances) is tied for appearances with James.
What James has been able to do is legendary, but he’s not up on Mount Rushmore yet. Maybe he’s at the base of it looking up. If, somehow, he and the Lakers are able to overcome the Phoenix Suns and win the next two games, and if Anthony Davis can ever get fully healthy, he might just make another run at a championship.
The problem with his resume isn’t the appearances — it’s the wins. Four championships in any team sport is nothing to scoff at, and we know James is already a walking Hall of Famer. However, when you look at his .400 win percentage in the Finals, he still has some catching up to do to Russell, Jones, Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan, and Magic Johnson, all of which have more rings than he does.
At 36 years old, it’s fair to wonder how many years James has left. When he’s healthy though, he’s still an elite performer. How many more deep runs in the playoffs he can make, and whether he can catch some of the other names ahead of him, remains to be seen. That said, James has earned our respect and our belief that anything is possible when it comes to his career. Let’s not write the ending before it happens.