MIAMI — LeBron James is 28 ½ years old. When Michael Jordan was that age, he had one championship ring.
James now has two.
This isn’t to suggest James definitely will reach Jordan’s six. But he has plenty of time to get there.
After winning a second straight title Thursday, James’ legacy is still being built. The way he has improved in each of the past two seasons, he might not even have peaked yet.
If the Miami Heat star is still going strong at 35, the age when Jordan won his sixth crown with Chicago in 1998, that would mean James has at least seven more good cracks at continuing to win titles.
When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was James’ current age, he had one ring, and he also would end up with six. When Shaquille O’Neal was 28 ½, he had also had just one, and he finished with four. When Tim Duncan was that age, he had two and now he has four. Larry Bird at that point had two of the three he would get.
Yes, Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal, Duncan and Bird all spent at least three years in college while James never stepped into one university class. Kobe Bryant also didn’t go to college and had three rings at age 28 ½. But Bryant didn’t get his fourth until he was nearly 31, so James needs just one in the next two years to move ahead of that pace.
And while we’re fully dissecting the age of various greats and their ring totals, Magic Johnson had four of his five when he was James’ current age. And Bill Russell, whose 11 titles never will be equaled, had five at the time.
The bottom line is James’ championship pace now compares favorably with many of the legends of the game. And his Most Valuable Player award pace is off the charts.
James’ four are more than anybody ever has had at his age and are two shy of Abdul-Jabbar’s record total of six. Abdul-Jabbar had told FOX Sports Florida last month, “As long as LeBron stays healthy and keeps playing the game at a high level, he, of course, could break my record.’’
The last two seasons have elevated James’ stock tremendously. He has joined Russell (1961 and 1962) and Jordan (1991 and 1992) as the only players to have won the MVP trophy and championships in consecutive seasons.
“I want to be, if not the greatest, one of the greatest to ever play this game,’’ James said after his Heat had polished off the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in Game 7 to secure the crown. “And I will continue to work for that, and continue to put on this uniform and be the best I can be every night.’’
James already is one of the best. He’s not top five yet, but he’s getting close.
Bryant recently told ESPN Radio in Los Angeles his five greatest NBA players ever are Johnson, Jordan, Bird, Russell and Abdul-Jabbar. I agree with that list except I would replace Bird with Wilt Chamberlain.
Yes, I know Wilt the Stilt was often Wilt the Stiff in the postseason with just two titles, but it’s hard to ignore his overall dominance. And, in case you’re wondering, both of Chamberlain’s championships came after he was LeBron’s current age.
When it comes to the greatest players ever, James is now in the second five. But he’s got plenty of time left in his career to move up to the first team.
No, James can’t go 6 for 6 in Finals the way Jordan did. He’s already lost twice in four trips. But, when all is said and done, there should be no shame in that.
Johnson dropped four Finals in nine visits. Abdul-Jabbar fell four times in 10 trips. Bird (out of five Finals) and Bryant (out of seven) also each had two defeats.
“(James has) been in a championship four times and he’s won two of them. That’s a great percentage when you can make it to the Finals,’’ said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who actually has a better percentage, having won three of four Finals. “So the story is still yet to be seen what he’s going end up with. But, right now, he’s going to enjoy No. 2. Winning back-to-back, there’s not a lot of people who have done that.’’
Jordan, of course, won three in a row twice. And that will be James’ quest next season to do it a first time.
When Jordan completed his initial three-peat, he was 30 years and four months old. If James can do it next season, he would be roughly 10 months younger.