Will LeBron James Finish His Career with the Most NBA MVP Awards Ever?
LeBron James has spent the better part of his 10-year career forcing his way into historically exclusive company, then whittling away his peers until he's the last man standing.
His selection as the 2012-13 Most Valuable Player (via Michael Wallace of ESPN.com) was just his latest venture beyond the velvet ropes.
James received 120 of the 121 first-place votes, with The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn's selection of Carmelo Anthony denying James the chance to be the first unanimous MVP selection. He joined Shaquille O'Neal as just the second player in league history to fall a single vote short of unanimity.
From a historical standpoint, though, the King's elite status was elevated for more than just a single season of dominance. This was the fourth MVP award of his career, a feat previously accomplished by four of the sport's most legendary talents: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan (five), Bill Russell (five) and Wilt Chamberlain (four).
And the preps-to-pros leaper is already pacing that group.
At 28 years old, James is a year younger than both Russell and Abdul-Jabbar when they won their fourth, three years clear of when Chamberlain won his and five years ahead of Jordan's pace.
This, of course, fits well within the parameters of his trend-setting career.
James became the youngest player to score 20,000 points in his career earlier this year (via ESPN.com). He became the youngest to 20,000 points and 5,000 assists in the same game, becoming just the 12th player to ever tally 20,000 points, 5,000 assists and 5,000 rebounds (via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel).
All of these youngest-ever achievements only add to the mythical allure of James' dominant career, but when the word "most" enters the equation, it brings with it other terms like "prolonged" and "sustained."
Health is obviously the greatest hurdle for James to overcome.
Luckily that's one obstacle that, so far, has never been an issue. Despite playing a physically demanding style, he's never missed more than seven games in a season—he can probably thank his Adonis-like 6'8", 250-pound frame for that stat.
Up next on the career checklist is team success.
Considering he's in a strong position to compete for a title in each of the next two seasons (depending on his fateful 2014 contract decision), he figures to be OK in that regard.
But his favorable position extends well beyond the next two seasons.
Remember this is the same player who transformed the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers into an Eastern Conference powerhouse, establishing relevance with no greater support than players like Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and an aging Shaquille O'Neal.
It's hard to even envision a club not turning into a title contender with the addition of James, save for perhaps the Phoenix Suns.
He'll have his pick of the litter in free agency, assuming of course he opts out of his contract, and, as a noted hoops historian, will not be taking his talents anywhere other than the place best suited to bring him more championships.
Yes, plural. Not one, not two, remember?
James won't always have an athletic advantage; Father Time has yet to lose that race after all.
But he still has a few seasons left at peak physical condition, and now a post game and three-point shot (40.6 percent in 2012-13) to fall back on as his body begins to fail him.
A fifth MVP award already feels like a formality.
The King posted a 31.6 player efficiency rating this season, more than three points clear of his closest competitor (Kevin Durant, 28.3, via Basketball-Reference.com). It was James' second-highest such rating of his career, the seventh-best mark all-time and one bested by only himself, Jordan and Chamberlain (via Basketball-Reference.com).
So that means James will have all of his 30s to rack up two more awards to become the most decorated NBA player (in terms of MVP honors) in the history of the league.
Jordan took home the honor at age 35, as did Karl Malone (via NBA.com).
James doesn't need to wait that long to become the most valued player in league history.
The only question now is whether or not he'll be known as the greatest of all time by the time he hangs them up.
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