LeBron James not losing focus with past NBA Finals on his mind

LeBron James
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 30: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the first quarter against the Miami Heat in Game One of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 30, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Sure, the LeBron James and Michael Jordan debate may be the most tired talking point in the history of sports. Still, it’s one of the few modern-day sports debates where it seems everyone has an opinion, with that opinion usually being strong for one side or the other. The most used argument for the Jordan side is, of course, LeBron’s NBA Finals record which is currently 3-6 compared to Jordan’s perfect 6-0. It’s hard to discredit LeBron too much for that NBA Finals record, as three of the six losses came at the hands of the stacked Golden State Warriors. Absolutely no one had a chance against the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant – probably not even Michael Jordan himself.

Two of the other losses came at the hands of Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, one in 2007 against the Cavaliers and one in 2014 against the Heat. It’s hard to fault LeBron for these, as the Spurs proved themselves to be one of the most consistent and dominant teams over the course of the 2000s into the 2010s.

That brings us to LeBron’s one other NBA Finals defeat. It was the first Finals run in the Heat’s first year of their big three including Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They faced Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, falling to them in six games. It was a huge upset that no one really saw coming, as the Mavs joined the Pistons, Celtics, and Heat as the only teams other than the Lakers and Spurs to win a championship since 1999 up to that point. To top it off, it was easily the worst playoff series ever for LeBron as he averaged 17.8 points per game on the grandest stage of them all.

LeBron still hasn’t really stopped hearing about that NBA Finals, but it wasn’t the media that brought it up to him after the Lakers’ game one win of these 2020 NBA Finals. It was The King himself.

It’s no secret that his failures in that series still haunt him to this day, as a 4-5 record in the NBA Finals sounds much better than 3-6. Even after pummeling the Heat in game one of these 2020 NBA Finals, LeBron is showing he knows nothing is guaranteed.

At the “old” age of 35, there really aren’t anymore guarantees for LeBron James. Father Time could come whenever and take him down a few pegs, quickly closing whatever championship window he may have had before that. He knows this, expanding on his experience in 2011 with the quote below (transcribed by Ryan Ward of Clutch Points).

“The best teacher in life is experience & I’ve experienced moments in my career – Finals games where you had all the momentum in the world. Felt like you had the game under control. One play here or one play there can change the course of the series…”

Not only is LeBron showing his urgency developed from the experiences he’s had throughout the years through his postgame quotes, but he is also showing it on the court. Mike Trudell of the Lakers reported that after their game one 2020 NBA Finals win, Frank Vogel and LeBron both emphasized that they really wanted to come out strong to secure games one and two in this series. They cited the Heat never trailing in a series in these playoffs up to this point, but maybe it was just Vogel and LeBron deciding that there wouldn’t be any nonsense from the Lakers being so close to the goal. This is probably why LeBron was not checked out of game one until 1:23 left in the 4th quarter, an insane thing to think about given they won by 18 and led by as much as 32. Hell, he even said he stayed up until 4:30 a.m. after game one on to watch film. A pretty insane feat, as I had trouble even staying up for the entire game on Wednesday night. Just call me #WashedKing I guess. 

LeBron’s intense fire even came out during the Lakers onslaught against the Heat in the middle of game one, but the intensity wasn’t directed at the Heat. Instead, it was anger directed at his teammates for showing up the Heat. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported the following from Wednesday night, after Dwight Howard and others had already done the celebration while going into a previous timeout:

James pulled down a rebound and was off to the races. In transition he found a cutting Howard, who delivered another nice left-handed pass to Davis along the baseline for a two-handed dunk to give the Lakers their biggest lead of the night at 87-55.

The Heat promptly called a timeout once more.

Davis, Howard and some players on the Lakers’ bench began making the glasses gesture again as they walked to their bench. James didn’t let this celebratory occurrence slide this time.

“Hey, hey! Stop it! Stay locked in!” he shouted at his teammates before entering the huddle. “This s— ain’t over, man.”

Expect LeBron to bring that same intensity every single game this series, no matter how big the lead is for the Lakers, no matter if the Lakers are up 3-0 in the series. LeBron doesn’t want another NBA Finals to weigh heavy on his mind a decade later.

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