League MVP. Finals MVP. NBA champion. Olympic gold medalist.
Over the past nine months, LeBron James has had one of the most remarkable stretches in the history of basketball. Yet unless he captures another NBA title next season, his time in Miami—and quite possibly his entire career to this point—may ultimately be seen as a disappointment.
Not everyone believes in legacies, but those of us who do recognize that they are that much harder to shape when the expectations are abnormally high.
There are many—even those who know James best—who have already started to make the inevitable comparisons to Michael Jordan. At this point, it's a bit premature to make such analogies, especially since we have the luxury of Jordan's entire body of work to use as a reference.
That said, with nine seasons already in the books, James is possibly closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning. The 2012-13 season could very well be James' best chance to win a second championship, and if he does, even his most ardent critics won't be able to deny his status among the game's all-time greats.
Nearly every legend in NBA history led his respective team to multiple titles, and those who didn't—Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West—are two of the greatest singular talents the game has ever seen.
James will never put up the Paul Bunyan-esque stats of Chamberlain, nor is it likely that he'll ever assume the mantle of "Mr. Clutch." So instead, James' legacy will largely be defined by how many rings he has in his jewelry box when all is said and done.
The number of championships that someone wins isn't the sole criterion that defines greatness, but a player cannot truly be considered elite without an acceptable amount of hardware. For example, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Charles Barkley aren't known as merely great players, but rather great players who never won a title.
Once the confetti fell from the upper levels of the American Airlines Arena this past June, James distanced himself from that trio forever. But after two seasons in Miami, he has only accomplished the bare minimum of what most had expected him to.
The moment James decided to take his talents to South Beach, anything less than at least one NBA championship would have been a complete and utter failure.
Barkley is well aware of what titles—and specifically, the lack of them—can do for one's legacy. As such, he knows that a single championship ring won't suffice for the man referred to as "King James."
"He's got to win multiple championships to make that situation work, at least two," Barkley told AOL Fanhouse in the summer of 2010 shortly after "The Decision." "[If not], his legacy is going to take a serious hit."
One title simply isn't good enough for a man who was anointed as "The Chosen One" by Sports Illustrated at the age of 17. Even if James hadn't made his now-infamous "not one, not two, not three..." pledge, the onus still would have been on him to lead multiple parades down Miami's Biscayne Boulevard.
The banner for the 2012 NBA title hasn't even been raised to the rafters, yet many are already clamoring for a repeat performance. It should be noted that winning back-to-back championships is a difficult feat, even in the parity-starved NBA.
But if Miami does find a way to take home the Larry O'Brien Trophy next summer, James will cement his status as one of the 15 greatest players in the history of the game.
Individual accolades are no longer important. James can win all of the MVP awards and scoring titles that he desires, but only a second championship will vault him to NBA immortality.
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