The word "three-peat" can do incredible things for an NBA player.
Just ask Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Talk to Bill Russell.
Soon enough, you might be able to have a conversation about it with LeBron James. Basketball's best player currently has the Miami Heat on the verge of a third consecutive title, and he's not trying to hide the fact that winning one is the ultimate goal.
Holding up the Larry O'Brien trophy yet again would do a lot for LeBron.
Not only would it cement him as the greatest player of this era, but it would also aid his historical legacy in a big way.
Three Championships Puts Him in Rare Company
It's a little bit more common than you might think to find players in NBA history with three championship rings on their fingers. After all, the league has been around for over six decades now, so there have been plenty of opportunities to adorn the digits.
In fact, there are now 68 players who have emerged victorious at least three times, with the qualification that they must have played at least one playoff game during each successful playoff run.
But the percentage of big-time contributors is a little smaller. Of the 68, only a select few have made the Hall of Fame, and a sizable portion have piggybacked on the success of others en route to championships.
At this point, it's safe to assume that LeBron will eventually gain entry into the Hall. He could retire right now and still make it, given the number of awards that have already piled up during his first decade in the league.
As a two-time champion with multiple MVPs who has been the best player in the league for years, he doesn't have anything more to prove if gaining entry to the HOF is his only goal. But it's obviously not, seeing as he's still only 28 years old and is seeking that coveted three-peat.
And even that isn't the biggest key when breaking down the barrier for the three-championship club. It's nice to do so as an eventual Hall of Famer, but doing so as an active player is just as special. The list of three-time players is populated largely by figures from the past.
Over the years, the NBA has been filled with an increasing level of parity.
The league has gotten deeper. The players have gotten better. The number of teams has risen. The ubiquitous nature of free agency has encouraged more player movement.
It would be unthinkable for one player to reel off 11 championships in this day and age, as Bill Russell did between 1957 and 1969. And that's why the percentage of active players with three titles is so minimal.
You can probably name most of them, but I'll lay out all seven names for you: Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade. That's it.
Wouldn't it be pretty impressive for LeBron to put himself in all of the categories discussed up above?
Moreover, let's take a quick gander at the ages of the seven active players when they won their third title:
LeBron will be 29 years old if he completes the three-peat and gains his own column on the graph up above. And as you can see, he'd be slightly late to the party—Manu Ginobili and beating both of his Heat teammates in the race to three.
But it's imperative that he doesn't wait too much longer before getting to the third title. Especially with the inevitable Michael Jordan comparisons. At the time of his third title, the consensus GOAT was only....oh wait....he was 30.
Hmm. Maybe LeBron isn't behind pace after all.
If he wants to catch MJ at some point in his career—and let's be honest, who doesn't?—he'll have to do what Jordan did twice: three-peat. And that's what could truly separate him from the 68 players who populate the pie charts that you've seen up above.
Throughout the many decades and eras of NBA history, the league has seen only five three-peating teams: the Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54), Boston Celtics (1959-66), Chicago Bulls (1991-93), Chicago Bulls (1996-98) and Los Angeles Lakers (2000-02). I suppose you could count the C's multiple times, but that's not what we're doing here.
LeBron has a chance to match his jersey number and make it six, and by doing so, he'd become one of a handful of players to be present on all three championship-winning teams during a three-peat.
That would be truly special, and it would be all the more difficult to deny his historical legacy if he did so.
No More Asterisks
LeBron's first title didn't count because it came during a lockout-shortened season.
His second championship didn't count because he was able to navigate through an injury-ravaged NBA. Derrick Rose missed the entire season, Danny Granger wasn't helping out the Indiana Pacers and Russell Westbrook's injury helped Miami avoid the Oklahoma City Thunder in a repeat of the 2012 NBA Finals.
If that's the case, doesn't every championship in NBA history come with an asterisk attached to it? Quick, name me one year that no major injuries have occurred.
Can't do it? That's because there literally hasn't been one. Injuries are a part of the sport.
So, what's the third asterisk going to be?
Is there going to be another major injury? Are we going to discount a title because the grass is too green this year?
A third championship would put a rest to all of these complaints. It's not a fluke if a team can emerge victorious for three consecutive years, even if it took an incredibly well-timed shot from Ray Allen and an epic collapse from the San Antonio Spurs to get the sandwiched title.
The history books don't remember semantics.
There are some stories told about each title-winning team once all the members of the roster have long since retired, but the team name still gets put next to the year without fail. No asterisks are present, even if the group of basketball fans that still has an unfortunate disdain for the reigning MVP still insists that they exist.
Once LeBron wins his third championship, he'll have exactly that.
And just imagine what happens when he has not three...not four...not five...not six...