LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Miami Heat in six games, capturing their 17th NBA title, which ties them with the Boston Celtics for the most in league history. It’s James’ fourth title and his fourth time winning Finals MVP. While winning a championship is nothing new to James, the Finals’ outcome alters the legacies of several players and coaches.
Unfortunately, I have to start this article by reminding fans that this is a legitimate title. The best teams in the NBA were there, and all teams played well over 70 games in the regular season. The Lakers even played without Avery Bradley, who played a large role for them throughout the year. Anyone saying this title isn’t legitimate is being shallow-minded about the whole situation.
Capturing this title should put James as a top-three player in any discussion when talking about the greatest players of all-time. While this fourth title adds to James’ illustrious career, especially because it came in Los Angeles, I don’t think this changes the King’s legacy too much. Many people already see him as the second-best player of all-time, and the only thing that could put him over Michael Jordan is winning six championships.
The debates around James’ legacy are polarizing, with some fans going out of their way to slight him and others claiming he’s the best player in league history. The battle lines are drawn, and no one wants to budge, which is fine. Winning a title in Los Angeles firmly cements James as the second-best player of all-time, but I already had him there after the 3-1 comeback against Golden State.
When the final buzzer sounded on Sunday, Anthony Davis earned his place in Springfield. The 27-year-old is only eight seasons into his career, but Davis has a resume most players can’t match in their lifetimes. He’s already made seven All-Star games and led the NBA in blocks per game three times. The versatile power forward has four All-NBA 1st Team selections and four total All-Defensive nominations.
The only things missing from Davis’ trophy case are a Defensive Player of the Year award, which he’s almost won several times, and a league MVP. However, he has plenty of time to chase those accolades. Career statistical totals are the more immediate concern for filling out his resume, but they aren’t essential for making the Hall of Fame.
Only one player in league history with seven or more All-Star appearances isn’t in the Hall of Fame (Larry Foust 1950-1961). Even only eight years into his career, Davis is already worthy of a place among the game’s immortals.
Dwight Howard already had a Hall of Fame resume. He could’ve retired after the 2013 season and still entered Springfield. However, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year regretted never winning a title. His one previous Finals appearance ended with a 4-1 loss to the Lakers and Kobe Bryant during the 2008-09 season. Howard eventually teamed up with Bryant, but the duo never saw eye-to-eye and split after only one year.
After dominating during his time in Orlando, Howard became an NBA journeyman, leaving conflicting feelings wherever he went. Some teams considered the five-time All-NBA 1st Team member untouchable entering this season. However, Howard showed his dedication to becoming a better player and teammate by losing weight and molding his body to better fit his age.
The former superstar graciously accepted his bench role with the Lakers and authored some throwback performances throughout the season. In the end, Howard captured his first ring with the city he heatedly split with over half a decade ago.
Similar to Howard, Rajon Rondo developed an interesting reputation during his time in the NBA. The former four-time All-Star played for six teams over the past six seasons, gradually transitioning to a bench role. Rondo shared another critique with Howard. He didn’t possess a quality three-point shot, which made him poorly suited for today’s game.
Rondo adjusted, displaying a viable three-point shot as early as 2015. Since then, he’s made 35.3% of his three-point attempts. The former All-NBA 3rd Team member also became known for stepping up in the playoffs. Even at 34 years old, Rondo reaffirmed his place as a clutch postseason performer this season. Playoff Rondo lives on.
Los Angeles’ most recent title is the second of Rondo’s career. He’s played a role on championship teams for the Celtics and Lakers while gradually moving up the assists chart. He’s sixth all-time in playoff assists. Every player from one to 15 on that list, except for the recently retired Tony Parker, is in the Hall of Fame.
The 2020 NBA Finals also created some legacy considerations for the Miami Heat. Head coach Erik Spoelstra made the Finals for the fifth time, all before his 50th birthday. Spoelstra wins 59.1% of his games in the regular season and 61.2% in the playoffs. For reference, Spoelstra’s mentor, Pat Riley, won 60.6% of his postseason games.
With 567 regular season wins, Spoelstra is halfway to basketball immortality. Another championship or two could speed up the process.
The biggest winner from Miami’s recent postseason run is undoubtedly Jimmy Butler. The five-time All-Star went from being a quality player on the Chicago Bulls who couldn’t get past James in the East to leading Miami as one of the game’s premier superstars. In the Finals, Butler authored two historic 30-point triple-doubles, including a 40-point triple-double in Game 3.
Unfortunately, Butler looked gassed in Game 6, but he cemented his legacy as one of the league’s top competitors. Two more All-Star seasons would get Butler to seven All-Star appearances and a nearly guaranteed spot in Springfield. However, his legacy isn’t complete without a championship. Winning a title in the next two or three years is the best way for Butler to pave his path to the Hall of Fame.
Andre Iguodala played a decent role in Miami’s playoff run, averaging 19.5 minutes per game in the postseason. The former All-Star appeared in his sixth consecutive Finals, five of which have come against James. Iguodala captured the Finals MVP in 2015, and the recent appearance adds to his legacy as one of the winningest players of all-time.
Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro are only building the foundations of their legacies, but the two Kentucky products are off to a hot start. The NBA loves creating legends and heroes. There’s a chance these young stars become both if they continue progressing under Spoelstra’s and Riley’s watch.
The 2020 NBA Finals weren’t even guaranteed to happen a few months ago. Despite all odds, the Lakers claimed their 17th title on Sunday night. While some analysts and fans will forever debate the championship’s legitimacy, the title’s impact on the legacies of several participants is undisputable.