LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Like a parent being asked to rank their favorite children, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James wanted no part in assigning special value to a 2020 NBA championship, should he win it against his former team, the Miami Heat.
“It’s no extra meaning to winning a championship, no matter who you’re playing against,” James said Tuesday at NBA Finals media day. “It’s already hard enough to even reach the Finals, to be in this position. If you’re able to become victorious out of the Finals, it doesn’t matter who it’s against.”
As James approaches his 10th Finals appearance searching for his fourth title, with Game 1 on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC), his teammate Anthony Davis ranked his rings for him.
“To be back in the Finals against Miami, I think, means a lot more to him winning this than anyone else,” Davis said. “I think this championship is probably second behind Cleveland, being able to get this one for him.”
James won his most recent championship in 2016, when he led the Cavaliers to a comeback from down 3-1 in the Finals to beat the Golden State Warriors, owners of the greatest regular season in league history, at 73-9.
James’ first two championships came with the Heat in 2012 and 2013, first dismantling a future MVP trio in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden with the Oklahoma City Thunder and then edging out Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili with the San Antonio Spurs in seven games, thanks in large part to a timely 3-pointer by Ray Allen.
Davis said the challenge in front of James — winning it all following a 4½-month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, not to mention a three-month stay in Orlando, Florida, as the league scrambles to finish the season in a COVID-19-free environment — is what would make this championship stand out.
“I think this one is going to be a tough one,” Davis said. “People said it’s going to be the toughest championship in NBA history from a mental standpoint just because of the circumstances.”
On that point, James and Davis are in agreement.
“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” James said when asked about life in the NBA bubble. “But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it’s been extremely tough. But I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to compete for a championship.”
The entirety of James’ Heat tenure involved competing for championships. Not only did Miami win it all twice, but the team also got to the Finals four times in James’ four years.
If there is any ill will about how James left in 2014 or how the Heat handled losing a generational player in his prime, neither side wanted to hash things out on Tuesday.
James was effusive in his praise when asked about Heat president Pat Riley and Miami’s coach, Erik Spoelstra.
“When I hear Pat Riley, I think about one of the greatest minds probably this game has ever had,” James said. “He’s won at every level. I saw the stat the other day that he’s been part of a championship in four decades. This league is not the same without Riles. He’s a great guy, great motivator, someone that just knows what it takes to win, and he’s shown that over the course of — what — 40 years.”
Riley has participated in a Finals as a player, coach or executive in six consecutive decades, longer than the 49-year old Spoelstra has been alive.
James had compliments for him, too.
“It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t gotten his respect,” James said of Spoelstra. “He’s damned good, if not great. Probably is great because of his preparation.”
The man now tasked with preparing for James as an opponent, Spoelstra, echoed that appreciation for James.
“To see what LeBron has done, when he moved on to Cleveland and then to here, it really is just a testament to his greatness and his commitment to winning,” Spoelstra said. “To be able to do it with different rosters and uniforms is really remarkable.”