Basketball

Fourth NBA title has a special place in LeBron James' heart

LeBron savours Lakers' title, having had to compete in a 'bubble' for 3 months

The sight of LeBron James hoisting an NBA championship trophy as Most Valuable Player of the title series was no surprise - but the path he took to a fourth career crown was anything but usual.

"I can't sit here and say one is more challenging than the other or one is more difficult than the other," James said after capturing his fourth NBA title with a third team, and his fourth Finals MVP award yesterday morning (Singapore time).

"I can just say that I've never won with this atmosphere. None of us have. We've never been a part of this."

This championship series unfolded in the NBA's quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida, where teams spent three months finishing a season that had been halted in March by the Covid-19 pandemic.

James said the isolation of the bubble made this title run a unique challenge.

"It played with your mind," he said. "It played with your body. You're away from some of the things that you're so accustomed to, to make you be the professional that you are.

"So this is right up there," he said of where he ranks his first championship with the Los Angeles Lakers, after title runs with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013 and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

"I heard some rumblings from people that are not in the bubble: 'Oh, you don't have to travel, whatever. People just doubting what goes on in here.

"This is right up there with one of the greatest accomplishments I've had."

James' four Finals MVPs are second only to the six of Michael Jordan. The 35-year-old is the first player to win four Finals MVP awards with three different teams.

He posted a triple-double of 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in the title-clinching 106-93 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 6.

It was his 11th Finals triple-double, and he came close to averaging a triple-double in the series with 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game as he made good on the promise he made to Lakers president Jeanie Buss when he arrived in Los Angeles in 2018.

Injury in his first season with the storied club saw them miss the play-offs. Now they are tied with the Boston Celtics for most titles in history with 17.

"We just want our respect," James said as the Lakers accepted the trophy on the confetti-strewn court. "(General manager Rob Pelinka) wants his respect. Coach (Frank) Vogel wants his respect. Our organisation wants their respect. Laker Nation wants their respect.

"And I want my damn respect, too."

He added that respect was owing to the NBA, as well, for putting together the Orlando campus - where there were zero positive Covid-19 tests among players - and for facilitating player efforts to speak out on social and racial justice issues.

For most of his time in the bubble, James said, he tried to concentrate on his competitive task.

"I wanted to keep my energy in the right space," he said, but added: "Over the last couple days, you definitely thought about it. You thought about just being here, how successful it is.

"I think we can all say from the social injustice conversations, the voter suppression, police brutality, to have this platform, have our players be able to unite like that, it's something that you will miss." - AFP

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