Will LeBron ever win another championship?|
LeBron James is a titan of the basketball court and a legitimate contender for the best player of all time. His prowess on the court and his flawless conduct outside the sport, as a businessman and philanthropist, have won him millions of admirers.
There is no doubt that LeBron can shift merchandise, draw crowds and even move the betting odds. If the Lakers are playing, then LeBron’s fitness and availability is the number one consideration for basketball betting fans looking for the latest betting offers. But should he have won more championships?
The "G" word
The perennial debate about which player is the G.O.A.T. seems to have boiled down to just two names: LeBron and Michael Jordan.
Those who take the LeBron side of the argument have a lot to support their case: his incredible longevity, his unique combination of physical attributes and elite ball-handling skills, and his record of winning NBA championships with three different teams.
On the other hand, those who prefer Jordan have the stats on their side before they even get to the intangibles. Michael Jordan reached six NBA Finals and has six championships. LeBron has reached 10 Finals and has four championships – a 100% Finals record versus a 40% success rate.
In fact, LeBron's stats don't just compare badly with Jordan's. Of the 32 players to have reached six or more Finals, only four have a poorer "conversion" rate than LeBron. And the most prominent of those, Jerry West, stands as the second-highest average point scorer in Finals' history.
In terms of Finals wins to seasons in the NBA, LeBron ranks 27th. In NBA history, 26 players have won more championships. Robert Parish, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan all played more seasons than LeBron has so far, but have won more championships.
LeBron's resume includes championships won with the Miami Heat (2012, 2013), the Cleveland Cavaliers (2016) and the Lakers, in the "bubble" season of 2020. But there have been a few that got away - six in total - some of which LeBron's team were expected to win.
Little blame could be assigned to LeBron for his first trip to the Finals, in 2007, when the underdog Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
He could also reasonably point to the injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love that wrecked the 2015 Cavs Finals against Golden State, and in 2017 and 2018, the Warriors were probably unbeatable, having added Kevin Durant to the lineup. In any case, LeBron scored consistently highly throughout those series.
The Miami defeat against Dallas in 2011, when LeBron averaged less than 18, despite support from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, was definitely blamed on the young rising star, while the 2014 Heat loss to San Antonio was also a surprise, although LeBron's personal contribution to that series was significant.
Overall, four championships is an impressive return, as is LeBron's four-time Finals MVP record. But 26 players in the history of the NBA have won more championships and another 13 are level with LeBron. Perhaps more significantly, another two titles would move LeBron level with Jordan.
The age factor
By the time the 2023 NBA Finals come around, LeBron James will be 38. His longevity is remarkable, although not unique. But the fact remains that no matter how dedicated, healthy or professional a player, the rigors of the NBA can take their toll. At the age of 37, LeBron is already 14th on the list of the most NBA games played.
Another full season with a playoff run could take him to seventh or eighth. Two full seasons and he could be up to second, and three seasons would give him a good chance of overtaking Robert Parish's current record of 1,611 games. At that point, he would be 40.
In every sport, there is a ceiling, even for the greatest. LeBron is currently not the oldest player in the NBA – that honor belongs to Udonis Haslem, who is fast closing in on 42. But NBA history suggests that there is a hard ceiling for those whose business is reaching Finals and winning championships.
In total, there are 17 individual players who have won a championship after hitting their 37th birthday. That number drops to seven for those over 38, five for the 39-plus bracket and four for those who are still playing at their 40th birthday.
Only one player, Robert Parish, has won a championship at the age of 41 or over, and that came when he was 43, as part of the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in 1997.
And only two players in the history of the NBA, Juwan Howard and Kareem, have won multiple titles after their 37th birthday. Kareem won three, though perhaps a more immediate example for LeBron would be Howard's two championships, earned in 2012 and 2013 - as part of LeBron’s Miami Heat team.
All of this suggests that LeBron’s championship-winning window is closing fast. He turns 41 mid-way through the 2025-26 season and winning a title as a franchise-leading star at that age would be unprecedented.
That gives him three, maybe four shots at another championship. Given his 40% conversion rate, he has a chance. But a lot will need to go right, and that’s another issue.
The Lakers problem
LeBron is one of four players to have won the championship with three different teams. Many fans assumed when he moved to the Lakers that he would be signing off his career on the west coast by winning two or three more titles and founding another Lakers dynasty. It hasn't worked out that way.
There can be no questioning LeBron's contribution on the court – he has kept impeccably high standards for the Lakers. However, off-field mishaps as well as the increasing fragility of Anthony Davis have conspired to make the Lakers uncompetitive.
The 2021-22 season was particularly disastrous. A summer recruitment of senior players, in which LeBron was heavily involved, was a complete failure and with Davis once again injured, LeBron couldn't propel the team to the playoffs.
The upheaval has also left the Lakers with a $44m contract problem in the shape of Russell Westbrook, a collection of aging All-Stars and a bunch of players whose roles were not entirely clear. Oh, and Anthony Davis is still injured.
The salary cap leaves the Lakers little room for maneuver, but few franchises – at least not championship-contending franchises – would be able to make room for LeBron's $41m salary. Could LeBron opt to take a huge pay-cut to squeeze onto a championship-contending roster?
With time running out to earn that fifth or even sixth title, LeBron could be left with little choice. He has at least one more title in him, but a lot has to go right for him to pull it off, starting with his moves this summer.