Mr. October, at 74 now, is a lifelong basketball fan who has been watching the game long enough to cite Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving as some of his favorites before he got to Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and, eventually, Kobe Bryant. Jackson knows as well as anyone that James, to some, will never have a case to rival Jordan in the ever-contentious G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) debate. But he surmised that this doesn’t bother James as much as many of us think.
“Once in a while you get a detractor, but the comparisons for LeBron are at the highest level,” Jackson said. “He’s one of the Mount Rushmore guys.
“Is he the greatest? I would say it doesn’t really matter. When you’re in the last paragraph, you’re pretty damn good.”
Miami’s Jimmy Butler was so good in Game 3, outplaying James in the game of his life, that it prompted James to label Tuesday’s Game 4 as a must-win game to his teammates in a pregame text. Although the Lakers delivered, now they must guard against another letdown, with Bam Adebayo (neck) back in Miami’s lineup from injury and Goran Dragic (foot) potentially returning for Friday’s Game 5.
The big-picture view, though, has looked as inviting for James for much of this series as he has ever had it at playoff time. In his nine previous trips to the N.B.A. finals, James often arrived with the decidedly weaker team (2007, 2017 and 2018). Or the team, like Miami in Games 2 and 3, missing its second- and third-best player; Cleveland, remember, had no Kevin Love and lost Kyrie Irving in Game 1 of the 2015 finals.
Maybe this season’s landscape is James’s compensation for past inequities. James is flanked by Anthony Davis, who even Dwyane Wade said last week was the best sidekick James has ever had. The league, as Golden State’s Draymond Green described it in our last newsletter, is “wide open” for James, Davis and their modest supporting cast to seize with the Warriors out of contention in 2020 after five consecutive trips to the N.B.A. finals. Even the abrupt halt of the N.B.A. season nearly seven months ago has not seemed to affect him. James initially feared that the hiatus would set him back physically; he lamented in late March that his body was in shock because the season’s suspension took him out of his usual playoff rhythm just as he was “rounding third base.”
If the Lakers blow it from here, up 3-1 and after seizing the first 2-0 finals lead of James’s career, count on the opprobrium directed at James to be louder and harsher than ever. If the Lakers finish the Heat off as widely expected, James will become the first player to win finals most valuable player honors with a third team.