The NBA is a unique league compared to other top sports. That’s not just because of its showy athletes, exciting drama, and raging free agent market, but because of its emphasis on championships. Winning one is good, but often not enough to make a good player great.
While always important, the pressure put on rings has only gone up in recent years. To study that, this guide will look at 4 championship rings (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020) that Lebron has, as well as his quest to get them, in order to show just how ring-centric the entire NBA has become.
The Top of the Top
Sports are all about championships. They are what everyone plays for each season, they help cement certain players into the history books, and they separate the mediocre from the good and the great. Still, there are plenty of hall of fame caliber athletes who don’t have one.
Everyone who plays wants to win it all. That’s always mattered, but it’s become even more prevalent in recent years due to the rise of social media. As basketball has grown, so have the conversations about greatness and legacy.
The league is extremely top heavy. The best players of all time don’t just have one ring, they tend to have a few (and sometimes even more). That pressure to win multiple championships is what pushed Lebron and drove him to make the career decisions he did.
A Long Journey
It’s no secret that Lebron is one of the best players of all time. He exploded onto the basketball scene, and saw continued success with each passing season. Still, as good as he was, he had quite a bit of trouble getting a ring.
He came into the league in 2003. While he had a high ceiling and a lot of potential, taking an unrefined team to the promised land is no easy task. He made people better, but the roster around him wasn’t good enough to go the distance.
That’s why it took him three years to make his first real run. In 2006, spurred by solid role players and a strong bench, Lebron took the Cavaliers to their first Finals appearance in franchise history. It was a great story, but it ended in disappointment.
The team ran headfirst into an extremely seasoned and well-respected Spurs team who promptly swept them in four games. That loss didn’t hurt Lebron’s legacy at the time, most great players lose before they win, but it hung over his head as the years went on.
Many thought Lebron would quickly return to the Finals after his first loss. However, his quest had a few unexpected hurdles. The Cavaliers were a solid team, but they didn’t have the depth or fire power to keep up with other great teams in the East.
Seeing the writing on the wall, Lebron left Cleveland and joined Miami. There, he saw immediate success alongside Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. He spent four years with the team, and won back-to-back rings in 2012 and 2013.
Despite his two losses, he felt his purpose with the Heat ended after he got the top. Spurred by his success, he went back to Cleveland for a second stint. The odds were not with him, but he did get a third ring in 2016.
Though he would take another hiatus after the victory, going three years without a win, he would bring home yet another championship in 2020 while playing with the Lakers. That gave him four total rings during his long and storied career.
Flawed, but Consistent, Wins
Lebron took home four rings, but it wasn’t a clean road. Where many other all time greats swept or only suffered one Finals loss, he has a losing record in the big series. Still, he’s a hall of famer simply because of how many Finals he played in.
So far, the future hall of famer is 4-6 in the Finals. That’s not as impressive as Jordan’s 6-0 or Duncan’s 5-1, but it’s an incredible number of championship appearances for the modern era.
Lebron has the most modern Finals appearances of all time. During his streak with the Heat and the Cavaliers, he went to eight straight Finals. Even if he didn’t win all or most of them, it was an incredibly impressive streak that likely won’t get touched for a long time.
In most professional sports, players need one ring to cement their legacy. In the NBA, they need a few. Lebron’s four rings helped put him among the all-time greats, and pushed him into the G.O.A.T discussion. That’s up for debate, but there’s now no doubt he can win it all.