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There’s a temptation among an awful lot of basketball fans to attempt to diminish the accomplishments of Lebron James, particularly if they’re somewhat older or younger than the age 39 which James will turn in 20 days, and especially if they happen to be fans of Michael Jordan and the 90s era Chicago Bulls, or of earlier eras of the Lakers. They are quick to remind that James still trails Jordan in NBA titles (four for James, achieved with three different teams, versus the six MJ and the Bulls won between 1990 and 1998), and is also still one short of Kobe Bryant’s five rings. As for his version of the Lakers, for whom he’s been playing for since 2018, he still has only one ring, and that was achieved in the “bubble” of Orlando’s Walt Disney World during the height of the pandemic, in early fall 2020 several months after the playoffs otherwise would have been held, in front of a video wall of virtual fans and the in-arena ambience of a glorified practice session,
But last night, once again on a court other than the one he currently calls home, playing for a title that the NBA essentially created out of thin air in an effort to drum up interest in games played before Christmas Day, James reminded the world, and a national ABC prime time audience, that not only does he have the capacity to still have himself rise to the occasion when he’s motivated to do so, but he has a remarkable halo effect on those around him to do the same. And the end result, as BLEACHER REPORT’s Erin Walsh reported, was inspiring:
LeBron James can now say he has something Michael Jordan doesn’t—an NBA In-Season Tournament Championship.
James and the Los Angeles Lakers defeated Tyrese Haliburton and the Indiana Pacers 123-109 on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to claim the first-ever in-season tournament title. James notched 24 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals en route to winning the In-Season Tournament MVP award.
But this win, more so than even some of the earlier ones in the IST, was one where James’ personal motivation and efforts were matched by several of his teammates:
It was an impressive showing for the trio of James, Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves, in particular. Some might even say it was a masterclass by Davis, who notched 41 points, 20 rebounds, five assists and four blocks in the win. Reaves, meanwhile, finished with 28 points, two rebounds and three assists.
For Davis, who has battled numerous injuries and disappointments since he partnered with James in those COVID-impacted 2020 finals to deny James’ former Miami Heat teammates a title of their own, this was a reminder that he still has something left in his tank. And for Reaves, a breakout performer during last spring’s surprising run to the Western Conference finals, it was proof positive that his game and star has additional upside, and, as a trio, they are potentially deadly.
No, this was not an actual NBA finals, so the MJ and Kobe syncophants can rest easy for now. The reward here is a cup (for the team) and a crystal basketball (for the MVP), not a ring. But it’s still very special for James, especially since Las Vegas appears to be a home court in his future, as Walsh’s colleague Jack Murray added:
LeBron James’ interest in bringing an NBA team to Las Vegas as part of an ownership group remains extremely high.
In an appearance on NBA Countdown, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said that the Los Angeles Lakers star is “putting in work” and “determined to be at the forefront” of the ownership group that inevitably brings an NBA franchise to Las Vegas.
“LeBron James is not just talking about being a part of an ownership group that brings the NBA to Las Vegas,” Wojnarowski said. “He has been active behind the scenes and on a regular basis now in meetings with his advisors and planning about what a franchise would look like, how an organization would run and then obviously the finances.”
And as THE DESERET NEWS’ Dennis Romboy added, James knows how and where to find the money even if he is a bit short:
Front Office Sports reported that some of James’ biggest financial partners are confirming their interest in helping him land a team.
“We’re looking at bringing an NBA expansion team (to Vegas) in partnership with LeBron and Fenway Sports Group,” Gerry Cardinale, the founder of RedBird Capital Partners, said Wednesday at the Sports Business Journal Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. “We started this project three years ago.”
If you recognize that name and company, that’s because just yesterday they were prominently mentioned in those kicking the tires around Shari Redstone and the apparent fire sale at Paramount Global. And heck, Lebron could even help them out, too. As a TV producer, he’s been attached to several recent series, most notably NBC’s big-money game show THE WALL, which has produced 83 episodes over five seasons with superior ratings to anything new that CBS has trotted out this fall.
But perhaps his biggest motivation lies in what will be unfolding tonight at the Galen Center on the USC campus, as ALL TROJANS’ Matt Levine reminds:
The USC Trojans basketball game against Long Beach State on Sunday is officially sold out. While fans do love their Trojans, there is more intrigue in this particular game due to the debut of guard Bronny James.
James has been sidelined for the last few months while he recovers from an unfortunate cardiac arrest attack that he suffered. He was finally cleared for game action a few weeks ago, and now will be taking the court against Long Beach State.
The team has been waiting for this moment for some time now, and it is one of the most highly anticipated debuts in college basketball history. Fans are very excited to see Bronny take the court, in what will be a spectacle at the Galen Center.
The game will go head-to-head with late afternoon NFL football, and is sadly relegated to the dying Pac-12 network, meaning even its availability in Los Angeles is limited. But no doubt Lebron will be present and it will eventually be part of some docuseries which will eventually culminate, health willing, in father and son suiting up for a Las Vegas-based NBA expansion team, on the same court. If mere mortals like Gordie Howe and Ken Griffey could pull that off, so can James. And as for that age thing? Well, 39’s still four years younger than Tom Brady was when he won a Super Bowl.
And, sorry you fans of MJ and Kobe, at age 39 MJ was only showing brief glimpses of what he once was as a Bull, his Washington Wizards 37-45. Kobe? Retired for a year (tragically, with less than two more to live).
James’ play to date this year, including those non-tournament games, has been nothing short of phenomenal, ranking in the NBA’s Top 15 in points-per-game (25.0) and assists-per-game (6.6), with an impressive 7.5 rebounds-per-game to boot.
That’s a much more impressive resume than most other courtside dads at Trojans’ games have had. And yes, I’m including Dennis Rodman in that list, even though his children seem not to want him around anyway.
Lebron as a father, particularly given the trying circumstances that began this spring, may be the most uplifting example of his claims to unicorn status.
So no matter what you may think of James the basketball player–and I’d argue anything short of at least grudging revereance would be short-sighted and biased–you can’t help but marvel at how inspirational and motivating his passion and desire has been. He wanted this farkakte cup, he made others want it as much, and he got it. The $500,000 per player prize may not have meant all that much to him, but for a young ‘un like Reaves, and some of his less prominent teammates, it’s one heck of a Christmas bonus.
GOAT? Debatable. King? Indisputable.
Until next time…