LeBron James missed the playoffs in his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers. A narrative formed in that process, ignoring the injuries suffered by James and his teammates. James, in the eyes of many, was no longer the NBA's best player after a decade atop the league's hierarchy. The Lakers, in turn, were foolish to make a four-year investment in an aging star. James himself facetiously referred to this idea with the hashtag "washed king" on social media.
In his second season with the Lakers, he became an NBA champion for the fourth time, picking up his fourth Finals MVP award on the way. In doing so, he helped the Lakers earn their 17th title, but first since the 2010 team led by Kobe Bryant. The Lakers spent most of the decade that followed in the lottery. But now that they're back on top, James wants the world to know that he hasn't forgotten those who doubted him.
"I told Jeanie [Buss] when I came here that I was gonna put this franchise back in the position where it belongs. Her late, great father did it for so many years and she just took it on after that. For me to be a part of such a historical franchise, it's an unbelievable feeling not only for myself, but for my teammates, for the organization, for the coaches, for the trainers, for everybody that's here. We just want our respect. Rob [Pelinka] wants his respect. Coach [Frank] Vogel wants his respect. Our organization wants their respect. Laker Nation wants their respect. And I want my damn respect, too."
James has felt slighted even as his championship season progressed. After losing the regular-season MVP award to Giannis Antetokounmpo, he vented to the media about frustration with the somewhat inconsistent standards he has faced in pursuit of that award. He's done that on several occasions during his career. He is held to a standard that no other player in NBA history has ever been held to.
But in the postseason? He lived up to it. He averaged nearly 30 points in the Finals to lead the Lakers to victory, and with Anthony Davis expected to return, he should have at least another few years in contention for championship No. 5. He deserves every ounce of respect that he's demanding.