After a 116-108 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers officially clinched the number one seed in the Western Conference playoffs for the first time since 2010. Despite early struggles, the team went on a 19-2 run keyed by a huge Anthony Davis performance that eventually buried Utah and won the Lakers their regular season prize ahead of the postseason.
It also marked an important individual accomplishment for LeBron James who had often been criticized by claims that his dominance was only made possible by playing in the weaker Eastern Conference for the vast majority of his career.
After the game, LeBron was asked what the accomplishment meant to him in particular and gave a pretty candid response (h/t Tania Ganguli of the LA Times):
“Since 2010, right?” James said to The Times. “They said I couldn’t do it.”
“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”
“I can just say it feels damn good to be the number one seed in the West,” James said. “For me, personally.”
Obviously, anytime a star athlete, especially one of LeBron’s caliber, goes with the “No one believed in me!” hype speech, we roll our eyes. But LeBron does have a bit of a point.
When he racked off eight straight Finals appearances between the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, a constant counterproposal was that he’d never be able to do that in the West. We’ll never know if that’s actually true (unless he wants to stick around for another seven years) and his first year with the Lakers was obviously abysmal, but you can tell that shutting up the “haters” is still something James takes pride in.
All year, the MVP candidate has been taking digs at the select few who said he was washed up after a sub-par season last year and now he’s taking shots at those who questioned the Lakers’ ability to gel right away and really dominate the West in the regular season, even if they were a title favorite since the preseason.
Yeah, a lot of this is just athlete talk but finding motivation in the slimmest disrespect is often what makes legends who they are and LeBron is no exception to that.