Just because it was anticlimactic doesn’t mean it wasn’t spectacular. Because what we saw out of the Lakers in Game 6 was an exclamation point.
Championships aren’t supposed to be punctuated in such emphatic fashion, but maybe it was fitting the most bizarre season in NBA history, and a roller-coaster NBA Finals, ended with Los Angeles running roughshod over the overmatched and exhausted Miami Heat.
The bet here, however, is only purple and gold nerds are going to remember Sunday’s 106-93 final score in favor of the Lakers while the rest of us remember it as the NBA’s most glamorous franchise returning to glory as champions of the world and basketball’s best player, LeBron James, completing a promise and remarkably re-writing the record books yet again.
In a career filled with incredible moments, an absurd amount of accolades, and so many firsts, James added another to his remarkable résumé. His 28 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists in Game 6 capped another brilliant Finals for James where he averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 boards, and 8.5 assists. And while his running mate Anthony Davis had several monster game in the series, James was fittingly named the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player. In doing so, he became the first player in league history to earn Finals MVP honors with three different teams.
Save the GOAT debate for another day because, quite frankly, it’s beyond played out. Nothing James did is going to change the mind of Michael Jordan fans who think he’s the greatest player to ever suit up the same way LeBron-stans will tell you what James just did cements his status as the ultimate baller. Instead, how about we just marvel at James’s mastery of the NBA for a minute? In his 17th season, he just led the Lakers to their 17th championship.
So few superstars ever come close to meeting or exceeding expectations, but what James has done and continues to do statistically and historically is flabbergasting. Honestly, what else is there to say about LeBron other than, god damn, he is the definition of greatness. Also the definition of dignity and grace. Also the definition of freak of nature.
He shouldn’t have dominated the playoffs and the NBA Finals like was just witnessed at age 35, playing in what amounts to his 20th season since he’s appeared in enough career playoff games—notably, never missing one—that he’s basically logged three extra seasons.
And he did it in the most unique environment—down in Orlando, in the NBA’s bubble where he openly bemoaned missing his family and the energy of the fans. James also used his voice and platform to regularly remind America and the rest of the world of the racial and social inequities coursing through society. The pressures, the responsibilities he’s faced with and impeccably completes are unfathomable. On and off the court. Nobody balances them better—or at least makes it look so easy—and nobody since MJ has performed so brilliantly on the biggest stage like LeBron. I could keep gushing about James for 40 more paragraphs and drop shitton more stats or historical firsts he's accomplished on you— like one of his mesmerizing alley-oop assists to AD or thunderous dunks in transition—but I wouldn't know where to start or stop. I'd rather just acknowledge and appreciate his greatness right now.
After the final buzzer, James’s celebration was, surprisingly, a little on the muted side. I thought he'd be overcome with emotion or jump for joy like a little kid. Maybe his reserved jubilation was a product of the bubble environment where he and his Lakers teammates couldn’t feed off the energy of the fans. But while AD hid his face in a towel near the bench, James had a mile-wide smile across his face and hugged up all his teammates. It kind of looked like a massive weight had been lifted off his gargantuan shoulders.
LeBron took his talents to Los Angeles two seasons ago to start fresh and serve as the savior of a Lakers organization that had struggled mightily for years. His goal wasn’t to just return them to the playoffs, like he did this season for the first time in six years. His goal, he stated very clearly after he accepted Final MVP honors, was to make the basketball world respect the purple and gold again. That included his coach Frank Vogel, whose hiring was much maligned. That included general manager Rob Pelinka, whose inexperience and roster building were heavily criticized. That included owner Jeanie Buss, whose team had become irrelevant until LeBron arrived. That included his Lakers teammates, who weren't supposed to be good enough to get it done with him. It also included an individual who absolutely shouldn't have to ask for it.
“I want my damn respect, too,” James said.
Here are six more observations from Game 6.