LeBron James made history yet again Saturday as his Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets 117-107 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The victory sends James to the NBA Finals for the 10th time in his career, making him only the fourth player in history to get there that many times. All three others are Hall of Famers.
Unsurprisingly, Bill Russell leads all players with 12 Finals appearances. He won 11 championships with the Boston Celtics, losing in the Finals only once to the St. Louis Hawks in 1958. His teammate, Sam Jones, is just behind him with 11 Finals appearances and 10 championship rings. The only non-Celtic to reach the Finals 10 times was a former Laker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem reached the Finals twice with the Milwaukee Bucks and eight times with the Lakers, winning one title in Milwaukee and five more in Los Angeles.
James reached the first of his 10 Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but after failing to return there in the three following seasons, departed for the Miami Heat. There, he began a streak that may never again be matched. James reached the Finals eight times in a row, four with the Heat, and four in his second stint with the Cavaliers. He won three championships in that span, two with the Heat and one with the Cavaliers. Now, he seeks his fourth NBA title.
Either opponent he could face there would be personal for James. The Heat lead the Celtics 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals. Should Miami advance, LeBron would become the first Finals MVP in history to face the team he won that award with in a later Finals series. If Boston completes the comeback, James would have a chance to lead the Lakers to their 17th championship, which would tie them with the Celtics for the most in NBA history. Almost every Lakers legend has beaten the Celtics in the Finals at some point, and James doing so would help cement him as one of the greatest players in team history despite his short tenure in Los Angeles. The Celtics were LeBron's greatest rival in the Eastern Conference for the first 15 seasons of his career. He faced them in the postseason seven times with Cleveland and Miami.
No matter who he faces or what the outcome, this season and playoff run will be another line in a lengthy and historic resume for LeBron. It has been over three decades since a player led a team to the Finals 10 different times, and it could be quite a bit longer before we see it done again.