Image via rhurst.deviantart.comIn order for LeBron James to add his name into the same conversation with the pantheon of the elite's elite of champion lore this is what he must accomplish
The best basketball player in the world no longer wears a crown made from fool's gold. The "King" finally lived up to his nickname by winning an NBA championship. Now, LeBron James is in prime position to build up his case as one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball. Many legends of the game were faced with the same opportunity after winning their first championship. One ring is a fantastic accomplishment. Two is nice as well. Three or more is what places a player in the company of the elite of the elite.
There are special players who couldn't get enough of the taste of championship champagne. The most prolific of all championship winners, Bill Russell, has more rings than he has fingers. Eleven total, including eight consecutive trips to the jeweler to get sized up for the latest championship ring. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan won six rings. Jordan never lost in the championship round. Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant have five rings each. Shaquille O'Neal, George Mikan and Tim Duncan won four each (Mikan also won a championship in the NBA's predecessor, the BAA). Larry Bird has three. In over 60 years of NBA history, only one player in that time won at least three titles and did not play with any of the players that I have listed - Sam Cassell, who won two titles playing with Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston and a third as a reserve on the 2008 Boston Celtics.
As great as players such as Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon, Isiah Thomas, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving and Moses Malone were, their meager individual championship totals don't place them in the same echelon as players like Russell, Jordan, Kareem in the minds of many. Fairly or unfairly, they don't hold the same prestige.
They all had the same opportunity. Russell thwarted Wilt (and many others) for most of his career. Magic and Bird won eight out of ten championships in the decade of the 80's. Jordan kept getting knocked down by Isiah's Pistons until MJ and the Bulls swept them off the scene.
A mid-90's retirement and a late 90's failure to establish a succession plan in Chicago allowed Hakeem and David Robinson to win the first of their championships. Shaq and Kobe's failure to coexist in the early 2000's opened the lanes to championship dreams. Kobe was able to collect two more rings at the close and start of the first and second decades of the 21st century.
Once the championship window was cracked open, these players got greedy. They saw an opportunity and seized it.
LeBron's championship window is currently wide open. James has been to the NBA Finals three out of his nine seasons in the league, including the last two in a row.
The Heat dismantled the Thunder in the 2012 Finals and there's no reason to think it won't happen again. Just looking at the Eastern Conference, the Heat have a chance to dominate for the next three seasons at a minimum. Their number one rival, the Chicago Bulls, have been devastated by the knee injury to former MVP Derrick Rose. The Celtics were one game away from the 2012 Finals, but LeBron sent them fishing. Dwight Howard is no longer in the conference. The Pacers, Knicks, Sixers and Nets just aren't good enough. The Lakers have a roster sheet that has the makings of a juggernaut, but health and age are against them. The Spurs are also fighting against time.
The Mavericks, Nuggets, Clippers and Grizzlies won't make it out of the West. All of this is only taking this season in consideration. In my opinion, at minimum, the stage is set for the Heat to represent the East in the NBA Finals for the next two to three seasons. Winning multiple rings won't be a cake walk. The Thunder and Celtics are two significant obstacles in the championship path. Yet, LeBron and the Heat have proven that they can vanquish those foes. The Lakers are currently the great unknown and they still have to get past OKC. Begrudgingly, I have to admit that the Heat have an excellent opportunity to start scheduling multiple visits to the jewelers.
After winning his first title in his third season in the NBA, it took Dwyane Wade six years to win his second title. A title that was only possible because Wade convinced LeBron to take his talents to South Beach. Wade knows that one ring would never be enough and that multiple rings establish legends. Now that LeBron has had his first taste of that championship champagne, he also knows that his critics are only temporarily silenced. One ring isn't enough and the legends of the league have shown themselves to be greedy.
The window is open.