Mark the day, “June 21, 2012, LeBron James wins first championship.” Some hope that line will someday read, “first of many championships,” others hope, “wins first and only championship.” Either way, it’s a historic day for basketball.
First of many seems more likely, but who knows how James’ second half of his career will play out. He finally won a ring, but will he have that same starving drive for another? It was evident that James went to another level this postseason to become a champion.
However, just one championship is not enough.
James has too much talent to finish his career as a one time champion. James is stuck in a dual prism of competition; he must compete against the current era while battling the legends of the game. While dismantling Kevin Durant, James must inch toward Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, and Larry Bird. The pantheon of greatness starts at three rings, that would be Bird. O’Neal and Duncan have four. Johnson and Bryant have five. Jordan and Abdul-Jabbar have six. Russell has a ridiculous 11.
These players kept their teams at the top year after year. These guys went to the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons. These guys dominated the league for years at a time while piling up rings. Sustained greatness is what elevates a legacy. Nobody really expects James to touch Russell’s ring count, but many speculate whether he can reach Jordan’s six. After all, that is what everyone wants to see, right? As a perimeter player (although he should just dominate in the post), James’ biggest target is Jordan. Jordan is the bar. Jordan won three straight rings, twice. James’ “Not five, not six, not seven” will forever set a standard. James understands the challenge. He knows that he is challenging for the G.O.A.T. title, you know, greatest of all time.
Only five teams in NBA history have repeated as champions: the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, Rockets, and Bulls. Only the greatest teams repeat as champions. The greatest teams often feature the greatest players. Although James’ individual stats may eventually outweigh many of those players up in the pantheon of basketball greatness, it will be all for naught if he doesn’t dominate the league by piling up rings in the second half of his career. James has been expected to provide championships for the past nine years. Now that he finally has one, that expectation is even greater.