Heading into the 2020 NBA Finals, there was speculation that there would be added motivation for LeBron James to prevail as he was going up against his former team, the Miami Heat.
James made a then-controversial decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for a Heat team that boasted Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The trio would make four straight Finals appearances and win two championships in the process before James ultimately left to go back home to the Cavaliers.
Heat team president Pat Riley was not pleased with James’ decision to leave South Beach and seemingly took veiled shots at him. Those appeared to agitate the superstar, though he never responded.
Fast forward to this year’s Finals and James was quick to dispel the notion that there would be some added satisfaction to beating his former team.
The storyline quickly lost steam and after the Los Angeles Lakers brought home the trophy, Riley made it known where he ranks James amongst his peers, via Tim Reynolds of AP:
Pat Riley on LeBron James: "The greatest player in the game today."
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) October 23, 2020
At this point, it is hard to argue that James is not the best player in the world, particularly given the type of postseason run he had. Even in Year 17, the four-time champion proved that when the stakes are at their highest he will answer the call and deliver wins.
Fellow stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard loom as threats to the crown next season, but James has earned his respect and deserves to be the first name mentioned any time there is a question as to who is the best player in the NBA.
For the Lakers, having James on the roster ensures they will be contenders for the foreseeable future and that should excite a fan base that is used to celebrating titles.
LeBron calls fourth championship one of his ‘greatest accomplishments’
Winning in the Orlando bubble was an experience unlike any other in NBA history, further cementing James’s legacy. When asked to rank where this latest title sits among his others, James explained it was not a simple answer.
“Well, I can’t sit here and say one is more challenging than the other or one is more difficult than the other,” he began. “I can just say that I’ve never won with this atmosphere. None of us have. We’ve never been a part of this. I mean, we got here July 9th.
Our ballclub got here July 9th. It’s October what — October 11th now. So this was very challenging and difficult. It played with your mind. It played with your body.
“You’re away from some of the things that you’re so accustomed to to make you be the professional that you are. So this is right up there.
“I heard some rumblings from people that are not in the bubble, ‘Oh, you don’t have to travel, whatever.’ People just doubting what goes on in here. This is right up there with one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve had.”
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