During the on-court celebration at Disney World as gold confetti flew and LeBron James accepted his Finals MVP trophy, he gave himself a compliment.
James had just won his fourth NBA title for his third different team — his first with a team out of the Western Conference. He capped his 10th Finals appearance by notching a triple-double in a spectacular rout.
Sunday night, James set the record for most playoff games at 260. James made a point to say one of his proudest achievements is never missing a postseason game.
“I’ve always been available,” James said. “I hope I’ve made my teammates proud.”
That accolade in itself is another factor in why the ageless James deserves to go down as “The GOAT” whenever he retires. James is 35.
Michael Jordan didn’t miss playoff games either, but he missed a season to rest his basketball bones, recharge and make a failed attempt at baseball.
Jordan ultimately retired at James’ current age of 35 after winning his sixth title with the same team, same nucleus, same coach. Being available like James has been available during this injury-plagued, load-management NBA era has been his most unsung achievement.
Durability? James played 82 games two seasons ago. Ten Finals appearances in the 30-team NBA will never be duplicated. Of the last 57 NBA Finals games played, James has been part of 51 of them.
As Jeff Van Gundy said before The Finals, “His career won’t takes a backseat to anyone.”
James admits he is “fueled” by those who diminish his legacy because he’s 4-6 in The Finals.
“No matter what I’ve done in my career to this point, there’s still little rumblings of doubt or comparing me to the history of the game and ‘has he done this, has he done that,’” James said. “So having that in my head, saying to myself, why not still have something to prove, I think it fuels me.”
After winning his first title, Anthony Davis, surprisingly, still wouldn’t commit to returning to the Lakers next season. Davis, of course, can opt out – unless the salary cap takes a bigger tumble than expected. Even if he becomes a free agent, Davis can go short-term with a one-and-one Lakers deal and become a free agent again in 2021.
“I have no idea,” said Davis, who drew comparisons to Bill Russell for his defensive brilliance late in the series. “I don’t know. I had a great time in L.A. this first year. This has been nothing but joy, nothing but amazement. Over the next couple of months, we’ll figure it out. I mean, I’m not 100-percent sure, but that’s why my agent [Rich Paul] is who he is and we’ll discuss it and figure it out.”
Davis’ future seemed to hinge on how Davis would mesh with James, if the Lakers won big and if the latter showed any signs of age. All the boxes seemingly have been checked as James looks like he has plenty gas left in the tank.
“True friendship,” Davis said. “Off the court — we’re close on the court, but you’ve got to see us off the court. It’s unreal. I’m always at his house. He’s always at my house. This is true the entire season. There’s no jealousy.”
New Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was right about Jimmy Butler. The Heat star just ran out of gas in Game 6 but he cemented himself as a do-everything superstar capable of carrying a club on his back. Thibodeau brought him to Minnesota to be their leader and he was rebuffed by their young standouts.
One scout told me before the playoffs Butler isn’t the quintessential max player who can regularly pull out a game as a closer with clutch shots. Maybe not his ultimate trait, but Butler showed that knack in the Finals, logging 40-plus minutes across the series. He was a superhero in Miami’s two series victories, especially with a 40-point triple double in Game 5.
Thibodeau visited Butler in Miami earlier this season while the former Wolves coach/president was unemployed. It gives further hope Thibodeau can mold young players. He’ll get plenty of chances with the Knicks — with RJ Barrett in particular.
In retrospect, the Knicks look bad in not attempting to trade for Butler when he was in Minnesota or going after him as a free agent last summer.
Former team president Steve Mills said in addressing those Butler trade rumors at the start of the 2018-19 campaign:
“We’re committed to following the plan and not just shifting, pivoting, because we see something that is attractive and might fast track something,” Mills said.
Thibodeau said of Butler in September: “Even now, an established All-Star, he still works incredibly hard, plays very unselfishly, plays to win. He’s not about statistics.”
Miami is not close to being the betting favorite to come out of the East next season, but if it looks to add Victor Oladipo as rumored, it would be unsurprising to see Erik Spoelstra’s Heat returning to The Finals.
Spoelstra, finally getting his due as arguably the NBA’s best coach, has four young players who will get even better in guards Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn and newly minted All-Star center Bam Adebayo. Perhaps Nunn can go in a package for Oladipo as Miami reloads. In truth, the decision to play Goran Dragic — rusty and hurting on his torn plantar fasciitis Sunday — backfired, upsetting their rhythm on defense.