- Since winning the NBA Finals, LeBron James has been defending his legacy and place in the NBA.
- James has repeatedly spoken about getting respect, proving critics wrong, and making a historical impact.
- James shuts down comparisons with Michael Jordan but seems to be making his argument for being the greatest player of all-time, which he has already said he believes himself to be.
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LeBron James appears to be mounting a campaign to be labeled as the greatest NBA player ever.
James added to his already-shining legacy on Sunday by helping the Los Angeles Lakers win the championship over the Miami Heat, his fourth title, and fourth Finals MVP.
Since the final buzzer sounded, James has dropped several hints about his place in history and squashing any lingering doubts about his greatness.
After naming members of the Lakers organization that deserved respect during the trophy presentation, James said, "And I want my damn respect, too."
Later, while speaking to reporters, James said he treated this season as a revenge tour after missing the playoffs in 2018-19.
"Personally, thinking I had something to prove fuels me," James said. "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 to this point, there's still little rumblings of doubt or, you know, comparing me to the history of the game, and: 'Has he done this? Has he done that?'"
On Tuesday, James posted an Instagram, saying critics will continue to doubt his place in history.
"WHAT THEY GONE [sic] SAY NOW?!?!" James wrote in the caption. "I know they'll make up another criteria that nobody else has ever had in the history of the game. But Guess what though, bring it on please!!"
View this post on Instagram
UP IN 💨 TOUR. WHAT THEY GONE SAY NOW?!?! I know they’ll make up another criteria that nobody else has ever had in the history of the game. But Guess what though, bring it on please!! Heavy is the head that holds the 👑 they say. Let’s get it! #ThekidfromAKRON🤴🏾 #RevengeSZNCompleted😉
James won't plainly say it, but he seems to be alluding to the ongoing debates about his legacy vs. Michael Jordan's.
James shut down the discussion of his career vs. Jordan's while speaking to ESPN's Rachel Nichols after the Finals, saying: "That's not for me to question or wonder or debate. That's what [the media] will do … Y'all can do the debates. Y'all can figure that out."
While James shuns the comparisons, he's also acknowledged them before.
After helping the Cleveland Cavaliers win the 2016 championship for his third title, James told Sports Illustrated that he was chasing a "ghost," referring to Jordan.
"My motivation is this ghost I'm chasing," James said. "The ghost played in Chicago."
And James has even said he believes he's the best player ever. During an episode of ESPN's "More Than An Athlete" in 2018, James reflected on winning the 2016 championship over the Golden State Warriors and said, "That one right there made me the greatest player of all-time. That's what I felt."
He added: "Everybody was just talking about how [the Warriors] were the greatest team of all-time, like, it was the greatest team ever assembled. For us to come back the way we came back in that fashion, I was like, 'You did something special.'"
James is likely also referring to his standing among current players in the league. As ESPN's Zach Lowe recently wrote, James heard the talk about whether players like Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo have passed him in the NBA hierarchy. Going into the season, some thought James' best days might be behind him, especially after a groin injury limited him in 2018-19. In James' telling, those doubts fueled his desire to prove his standing — his "pissed off" rant over MVP voting confirmed it, too.
Yet James' repeated mentions of "history" also suggest he's looking beyond the NBA today.
James became the first player to win Finals MVP with three different teams. Statistically, he is on pace to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer. Throughout this postseason, James continually climbed the playoff leaderboards in stats like minutes, points, and assists. With James still playing near his peak, he has the chance to dominate all-time leaderboards by the time he's done playing — while adding more championships to his resume.
As Lowe wrote of the Jordan-James debate: "There is a chance, maybe a good one, LeBron drives this GOAT conversation closer to a consensus than anyone would have imagined possible a decade ago."
James seems to want to have the conversation now.
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