Hebda: Lakers’ title cements LeBron as king of generation

AP Photo | A suspended-in-air James cocks back a thunderous dunk during the Lakers’ decisive Game 6 victory.

Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer

Oct. 15, 2020

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat to win the 2020 NBA championship on Oct. 11. Los Angeles finally put away the pesky Heat in Game 6 with a dominating performance.

It is the 17th championship in franchise history for the Lakers. Like every other year, this title is meaningful. This is the end goal for every organization, and it ultimately defines our perceptions of who is great and who is merely good.

For example, this win forever alters the legacy of future Hall of Famer Anthony Davis. New Head Coach Frank Vogel, predicted by many to be fired by now, proved those doubters wrong. Veterans like Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo, who looked to be on the cusp of retirement, augmented their resumes in impressive fashion.

Even the losers are impacted for the better. Jimmy Butler proved he can play with the best, Erik Spoelstra likely cemented his case for Springfield and the legend of Pat Riley grew.

But let’s be honest. This title is about LeBron James. For the fourth time in his career, James is an NBA champion and Finals MVP.

He might not have always been the best player on the court, but he was by far the most important part of this Lakers effort.

Without LeBron, the Lakers are probably still seeking a free agent to reverse their losing ways. Vogel is still considered a decent coach, but the elite tier remains distant. Davis could be anywhere, including still stuck in New Orleans.

It was LeBron who changed the trajectory of their respective careers.

For the sake of brevity and avoidance of redundancy, I won’t spend much wordage discussing the stats supporting his greatness. But given their impressive nature, they deserve some acknowledgement.

James is easily the all-time playoff points leader. He ranks second in assists and sixth in rebounds.

Michael Jordan, for perspective, doesn’t even crack the top ten for rebounds or assists.

LeBron is sandwiched between Steph Curry and Ray Allen, often considered the two greatest shooters ever, as second on the all-time three-pointers made list.

He is the consummate basketball player. Nobody in this century has displayed the absolute skill and versatility that he has.

The elephant in the room, no doubt, is Jordan. The comparison between him and James is inherently flawed, but it is worth briefly entertaining.

The aforementioned playoff statistics show a jarring difference in James’ favor, but he has played 81 more postseason games than Jordan.

Jordan played for his original franchise during his golden years. Jordan’s Chicago Bulls won trades, drafted well and maintained a high level of consistency for an entire decade.

LeBron was drafted to a subpar Cavaliers organization and took them as far as he could, but eventually realized winning a title required him leaving town.

These comparisons are the tip of the iceberg, but what they show, if nothing else, is that it’s an imperfect comparison between him and Jordan.

And when having these kinds of conversations, there really isn’t such a thing as a perfect comparison.

Legends like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain played in less talented eras. The first time Magic Johnson and Larry Bird experienced the three-point line was their rookie year. The physicality (or dirty play, whichever term you prefer) permitted during Jordan’s career has largely been phased out of the game.

Just look at this year. Three months in a bubble has never been a requirement to win it all.

Even if you watched every one of the greats play, I suspect you aren’t entirely sure how to fairly compare them.

But there’s this. As Myron Medcalf of ESPN pointed out during James’ most recent Finals run with the Cavaliers, he will always be known to a certain generation — my generation — as the greatest player they ever watched.

If that’s his legacy when it’s all said and done (and that appears to be a good ways away still), chalk that up as another victory in the already illustrious career of LeBron James.