Points aside, LeBron James’ legacy will be his empire

When the NBA summer league was quirky, when you just had to rate basketball and then rate basketball. And the pleasures of Las Vegas, it was played in Boston. In the summer of 2003, LeBron James was there. He had yet to play official pro games, but was already wealthy, signing a seven-year, $87 million contract with Nike before drowning his first basket. LeBron in the gym at the University of Massachusetts in Boston 20 years ago epitomized two things at the same time: a stunning physical presence for an 18-year-old teenager and a physically mere child compared to what his intimidating adult body would become.

Two decades later, in the week that he approached and finally surpassed the league record previously held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James’s entire remarkable path became clearer in one remarkable week in the NBA. .


Compared to other professional sports, a point in basketball is an odd quality. Due to the individualistic nature of scoring, glasses are alternately the most revered and least valuable commodities in sports. Points are like a home run: completely selfish – one pitch, one swing, one run. They are the most exciting and defining barometer of greatness, but also a measure of success independent of team concepts. Like a home run, the basketball scorer stands apart, and like a home run, points can be construed as detrimental to team play and, ironically, to winning. As with the one-dimensional baseball slugger, Bob McAdoo, Adrian Dantley, George Gervin, James Harden, and even Wilt Chamberlain scored tons of points but weren’t always considered winners. Their high volumes were often seen as examples of selfishness. The fact that LeBron and Kareem are now the two greatest scorers in the NBA ties the top of the record book to team success, wins and championships. Ten NBA titles in total, 20 NBA Finals appearances in total, 10 regular season MVPs in total and almost 80,000 points in total.

Like the home run crown, the scoring leader passed hands more often in the game’s nascent period, but from now on is likely to be held only by the greatest players. From 1871 to 1920, six people set the home run record. In the 102 years since Babe Ruth overtook Roger Connor (who held the record for the previous 26 years) in 1921, only three people have held the record, and they are giants: Ruth (1921-1974), Henry Aaron (1974-2007) , and now Barry Bonds (2007-present).

The NBA was founded in 1946. In the first 20 years of its existence, four people became champions in performance. On February 14, 1966, in just his seventh season, Chamberlain passed Bob Pettit (who had only his first full year of retirement) and for the next 56 years there were only two names at the top of the NBA record book: Chamberlain. (1966–1984) and Abdul-Jabbar (1984–2022). Now, in 2023, James is third. This is what the most important record in any sport should be: a reflection of the very best players the game has to offer.

James found himself in the space of Ricky Henderson and Ruth: he broke the all-time record without being a statistician at the end. Most career records fall after a lifetime of compiling, tank emptying, because that’s what it takes – career draining to reach those Everest peaks. But not LeBron. Ruth was the all-time home run leader as an active player for 14 years. Henderson broke the record for most steals in baseball in his 12th season and went on to play 11 more times. While playing another decade is probably unlikely, James is still a great player right now, and on any given night — and potentially in the postseason series, of course — at 38, he could still be the best player in the league.

The record is amazing; James’ winning arc as a basketball player, everything. American culture has become a bar stool debate, a mindless and relentless tsunami of lists, memes, comparisons. Neither James nor the rest of the sports world can turn on the TV or social media without some comparison between LeBron and Michael Jordan, devious nonsense best discussed over beer and chicken wings – or not discussed at all. James’s victory lies not only in being considered the greatest player of all time, but also in the fact that he recognized the impossible standards predicted for him from the age of 12, and in many cases surpassed them.

He has the greatest physical presence the game has ever played, its most dominant all-around talent. In one body, he is a combination of all the great players that have ever lived: size and strength to dominate his position as Chamberlain and Shaq dominated theirs, court vision and teamwork by Bird and Magic, speed, athleticism and vertical a game. Jordan, Dominic or Kobe.

And he won. And won. And won. James won when he led Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes to the NBA Finals in 2007. He responded to the image of his exit from the 2010 playoff season by losing to Boston, appearing in eight consecutive NBA Finals—four with the Miami Heat. and four with the Cleveland Cavaliers. When he failed in the 2011 Finals and the world suggested that the moments were too big and he needed a sports psychologist to help him deal with the pressure, he responded with consecutive NBA titles with Miami. He returned to Cleveland and became the Cavaliers champion in 2016. For almost ten years, the team that included LeBron James was the main favorite to reach the final. From 2011 to 2018, a supernova in Miami and Cleveland, he bent the NBA to his will. Karim won 6-4 in the NBA Finals, Jordan 6-0, Magic 5-4, Bill Russell 11-1. James plays 4-6 times in the NBA Finals, but he has spent half of his career playing for the championship. The record, championship, dominance and high ranks in numerous NBA career metrics (with the exception of offensive rebounding, James is in the top 10 of all time in virtually every major offensive category) will remain James’ best. achievements, and he will stand with the greatest who has ever played this game – the greatest for some, and not for others. Perhaps one day, when Wilt, Kareem, and Michael have lived long enough to see the heir challenge them, someone will come along to challenge and possibly outnumber him. But what happened while James was pursuing Kareem was far more impressive than the recording, beyond his personal control, and will be his enduring legacy.


On January 31, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New York Knicks 129–123 in overtime at Madison Square Garden. James scored 28 points leaving him 89 points off the record. The following night at TD Garden, the Celtics led the Brooklyn Nets 46–16 after the first quarter. The final score was 139-96. The next day, in a 43-point loss to defending Eastern Conference champion Kyrie Irving, his team was only three games behind the conference-leading Celtics. a few weeks earlier, in order to revive the busy season, he requested an exchange. Irving’s contract was expiring at the end of the season, and unless the Nets offered him a four-year, $198 million extension, Irving informed his team that he wanted to leave. Within a week he was gone, Kevin Durant was gone, and so was the super-team Brooklyn Nets, famous for the past three-plus years.

From the very beginning, James was differentiated, separate. He does not belong to the historical bloodline – he is not Vanderbilt, not Carnegie, not Kennedy and not Barrymore. He is special, without heirs, an attitude befitting a man known only by name. LeBron, armorial surnames do not follow. This also applies to his basketball genealogy and how he positions himself. Sure, important people have taught him the game of basketball and life, but he presents himself as completely self-made. He’s not from the legendary old high school basketball programs, St. Anthony in Jersey, or the DeMath or Dunbar programs that made Washington DC famous. He is not a student of Dean Smith, a Carolina man, from Bobby Jones to Phil Ford, Worthy, Jordan, Vince Carter and Rashid Wallace, and also from Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyszewski or any other college. He is not Manning or Griffey, the descendant of sports royalty, Bobby Bonds for Barry, Dell Curry for Steph and Seth.

Once he joined the league, James abandoned the traditional path from lightning spear to coach where both player and coach grow together and successes are linked forever. They become one, glorify each other, introduce each other at the induction into the Hall of Fame. There is no Phil Jackson, no Jordan LeBron, no Auerbach, no Russell, no Popovich, no Duncan, no Joe Torre, no Derek Jeter, no Belichick, no Brady. He was coached by Paul Silas and Mike Brown, Eric Spoelstra and Tyronne Liu, the never mentioned David Blatt, Frank Vogel and the rest, but no one could claim LeBron, and he certainly didn’t claim any of them. Over the past 20 years, James has been called the best player on his team, as well as the team’s de facto coach and general manager. He is the only being.

The balance of power has shifted in the NBA over the decades, and in some ways what James has been able to do in his career represents the ultimate win for the workers after decades of management control. NBA executives and the commissioner knew this too. The players had leverage, but no player, Magic or Bird or even Michael, was willing to be left alone except for the teams that made them famous. There was value in being Celtic, Lakers, pump Dodger Blue. As wages rose, players began to be referred to as “separate corporations”. Michael, still tied to the traditions of the team, the coach, the sponsor, was not in a position or interested in cutting the cord completely. He was from the Bulls, under the auspices of Nike, and became a great…


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