3. James’ run officially over, so now maybe we can appreciate it
LeBron James will not, in fact, be playing in his ninth consecutive NBA Finals this year. That was made official when the Brooklyn Nets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 111-106 on Friday, officially eliminating the Lakers from playoff contention.
It will be the first time since 2005, his second NBA season, that the NBA will conduct its postseason without James being a part of it.
James is one of seven players in NBA history to play in at least eight straight NBA Finals, with the other six all tied to the Boston Celtics dynasty of the late 1950s and 1960s.
Bill Russell holds the all-time record with 10 straight Finals trips from 1957-66. Sam Jones and Tom Heinsohn of the old Celtics are next on the list with nine. Jones missed the first one of Russell’s trips to the Finals and Heinsohn the last after retiring in 1965.
James’ detractors are quick to point out that he — not his teams, just him — won just three of those eight consecutive Finals and that LeBron — him, not his teams — are 3-6 in the Finals overall.
Call me crazy, but I’m going to side with the people who say what James accomplished with eight straight NBA title runs in an era during which the NBA had 30 teams is remarkable, perhaps even more so than Russell’s run of 10 in a row.
During Russell’s career, the NBA had eight or nine teams and no free agency. That made the playing field much smaller, for starters, and also ensured teams were much more able to keep their rosters intact from year to year.
James turned 34 on Dec. 30 and sustained the first major injury of his career this season with a groin strain that has kept him out of 20 games this season.
In his 16-year career he’s averaged 38.6 minutes per game, already piling up more than 33,000 regular-season minutes while throwing on another 10,000 more in the playoffs. With 239 career playoff games under his belt, he’s played almost an additional three seasons’ worth of games.
So here’s hoping that now that NBA fans won’t have to suffer through another NBA Finals with one of the top-five players of all-time sullying them that maybe — just maybe — there can be a little bit of appreciation for the enormity of playing in eight in a row.