30 On the 30th: LeBron James’ Legacy Thus Far

LeBron 30

LeBron James could retire today and leave a legend. In twelve NBA seasons James has accumulated four MVP trophies, two NBA titles and two Olympic gold medals finishes—today the “King” turned 30 years old. To the casual basketball fan that means little to nothing, but any true hoops fan knows that 30 years old in the NBA is equal to 40 years old. Especially if you have been in the league since you were 18 like James was.

His twenties alone left a legacy that most NBA players will never touch if they had two cracks at it. We’re not going to focus on the numbers James has put up. You can listen to ESPN talking heads drone on about that. Here we care about legacy and that is something that should put James in the top five of all-time right now.

James is the first superstar of the social media era—other greats like MJ, Magic, Bird and even Shaq and Kobe. How do you think Jordan’s gambling issues would have gone if Twitter and TMZ were up his ass? How about Magic’s fight with AIDs? Or Kobe’s rape accusation? James has none of these. His biggest “controversy” was a boring and pointless charity event where he announced that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami.

In twelve seasons under the public microscope that’s the only thing he did—well and this joke.

We have already seen two chapters of LeBron’s career, the first Cleveland years and the glorious Miami years. As the King turned 30 he seems to be hitting another chapter, the same chapter MJ hit post-baseball, Kobe hit when he hung up number “8” to “24”. It happens when those God-given athleticism runs out and talent has to take over. Players’ knees aren’t made out of metal, they eventually wear down and as James’ knees have quite the mileage. So as he begins to set his sights on his final opponent, father time, let’s take a quick look back at the past two chapters and see the legacy each left behind.

The Chosen One (2003-2010)

James made have come into the league at 18 years old, but he has had a camera in his face since he was a 16-year-old high school player. Being drafted to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers only heightened the hype—a hype James lived up to. He signed a $90 million shoe deal with Nike at 18 years old…$90 million!

In his first stint with the Cavaliers he took home two MVPs (2009 & 2010), elevated the Cavs to perennial title contenders and dragged a pathetic supporting cast to the NBA Finals in 2007. In 2008 James led the “Redeem Team” to gold in Beijing.

Despite not taking home a championship in his first seven years, James was still on track with MJ who didn’t win his first title until he was 29 years old. Kobe had three titles before 29, but no MVP trophies. Both Kobe and MJ also had Phil Jackson and Shaq/Scottie Pippen. LeBron had Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Brown. I’m not making any excuses, but come on clearly there is a divide in talent.

Miami Nights (2010-2014)

Though James will never admit it, due to his media savvy, he knows that he was never winning a title in Cleveland—at least that Cleveland. He needed to link up with people that have been in the trenches and Miami had that in Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade. Adding Chris Bosh was a bonus. The Heat years, what LeBron referred to as his college years, didn’t start out well. With the fallout from “The Decision” and Heat Pep Rally no one wanted to see James and company succeed.

After Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks upset the Heat in 2011 it was rock-bottom—on the court. Off the court James was becoming a business icon with sponsorship deals with Beats by Dre, Gatorade, Nike, Samsung and many more. Hell, he even bought a stake in Liverpool soccer team.

It wasn’t until James hit rock-bottom in 2011 that he finally became the beast no NBA player wanted to see on the court and every fan wanted to pay to see. I still remember that game—Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. From the opening tip James had a look in his eyes no one has ever seen—menacing, focused, a look that saw nothing but a W. Not even MJ, Kobe or the MonStars were seeing James that night.

From that game on James went on a two year rampage collecting a pair of NBA titles, NBA title MVPs and league MVPs. He finally found an OG in Pat Riley to help him through the war like Riley did with Magic and Phil with MJ and Kobe. James finally had his Pippen in Wade and he was prospering.

He finally found the formula he need to win a title–he finally built the system tailor-made for his skill-set. I thought the Heat would be in the finals for the rest of James’ career. The Spurs put an end to that in 2014, handling the Heat in five games and ending the Heat Era before we knew it.

The Return (2014-present)

So what does LeBron have left? He is back in his “23” Cavs jersey and struggling with his new sidekicks, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. There is no Wade, no Riley and no Bosh. The jump in his legs seems to be slowing down just a bit—no more LeBron driving through the lane and exploding to the rim. Now everything has to be calculated.

The show is far from over for James—we saw Jordan win three in a row be redefining his game with mid-range jump shots, great defense and calculated drives, ditto for Kobe. Now James must do the same. Right now the Cavs can’t walk without tripping over themselves, but come May expect James to have Irving and Love in line for a playoff run. Good luck James and have a happy and healthy birthday.