Throughout the last eighteen seasons, LeBron James has cemented himself as one of the greatest basketball players to ever lace up. As one of the most dynamic players to ever play in the NBA, fans can easily get lost in all the accolades LeBron has racked up and forget the number of championships he has actually won.
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How many championships has LeBron James won? Winning is the one separator between a great NBA player and an all-time great. In one of the most celebrated careers in NBA history, LeBron has shown time and time again that he is built for the brightest lights basketball has to offer. James has won four championships in his ten finals appearances.
LeBron has played for three different franchises and has delivered a championship to each one. As one of the most impactful players in league history, it is important to know the circumstances in which LeBron won and the journey he took to get there.
Difficulty in Getting the First Championship
Arguably the most highly touted high school player in the history of basketball, LeBron was supposed to be the next big thing in the NBA. He came into the NBA labeled the “Chosen One.” After being drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, many expected nineteen-year-old James to deliver a championship to his hometown. The problem with these expectations was not LeBron’s play, but simply the lack of a formidable roster around him. In just his third season LeBron led a roster to the NBA Finals with a starting lineup featuring Daniel Gibson, Darren Wooden, and career 4.9 point-per-game scorer Sasha Pavlović. After a sweep in favor of the Spurs, LeBron never again reached the Finals in his first stint with the Cavaliers.
In 2010, LeBron announced “The Decision,” where he decided to take his talents to South Beach and form a superteam with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. LeBron experienced more hate than ever after leaving his hometown for Miami. He was considered the villain of the NBA. However high his expectations were when he was drafted to Cleveland, they had now exponentially increased. The Heat were the overwhelming favorites for the 2011 championship. Finishing with a 58-24 record, the newly formed big three remained the frontrunners to win the championship. After winning a series against the 76ers in five games, and defeating Boston in five, the Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. They beat the Bulls in five games also, reaching the Finals in just fifteen games. LeBron had a chance to prove there is no limit to what he can achieve with a stellar supporting cast. James’s legacy hinged on this series against the Dallas Mavericks led by aging superstar Dirk Nowitzki.
After spending the last five seasons trying to get back to the Finals, James had another chance to win a title. The Heat took game 1 of the Finals, but Dallas managed to steal game 2 in Miami in a 95-93 thriller. Heading back to Dallas, LeBron and company handled business and took game 3. Like LeBron, however, Dirk Nowitzki had also spent his entire career for this moment and he was not going to lose without a fight. The Mavs took advantage of home court in game 4. Now, unlike in today’s NBA, home-court advantage in the 2011 Finals went in favor of the higher seed in games 1 and 2, and 6 and 7. A 2-3-2 home-court advantage format. Consequently, the Mavericks would have home court in game 5. The Mavs won 112-103 and would return to Miami on a two-game winning streak. LeBron averaged 17.2 points throughout the first five games of the finals, scoring a mere eight points in game 4.
If he was ever going to show that he had what it took to win an NBA championship, this was his opportunity. James and the Heat returned home in game 6 with a chance to push the series to seven games. He scored 21 points but it was not enough, the Mavs won. James finished with averages of 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in the 2011 finals.
Many rejoiced as LeBron fell when the pressure increased. James, the following season, showed no signs of falling to the pressure. In the 2011-12 lockout season, LeBron received his third MVP award. Finishing with a lower regular winning percentage than last year, it was time to show up in the playoffs. Miami won in five games in the first round against New York, and in six against Indiana. LeBron faced the Celtics in the Conference Finals. Boston sent home LeBron in Cleveland before, so this was a much-anticipated matchup. Miami won the first two games of the series, but similar to the prior season lost three games straight heading to a game six in Boston Garden. LeBron’s legacy was once again on the line, but this time he delivered. James finished with 45 points to his name in a 17 point blowout. The Heat leveled the series and had home-court advantage for game 7.
Miami won and advanced to the Finals to face the Thunder. Oklahoma City had a young big three of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden. It was not going to be an easy series whatsoever. The Thunder took game 1, winning 105-94. Many thought the scoring punch of the Thunder was too much to handle for LeBron, as once again he was down in the Finals. James took matters into his own hands, winning game 2. The series headed to Miami for the next three games. Miami won both games 3 and 4 and could finish the series off in a game 5. That’s exactly what they did. James won his first finals MVP after defeating the Thunder. This was the first of many championships to come for LeBron James. If you want to see what LeBron’s rings look like, just click here.
Playing from Behind: LeBron’s Second Championship
LeBron’s hard work finally paid off as he was named the Finals MVP of the 2012 NBA Finals. He was nine years into his NBA career before he won his first title. This makes the stat of ten finals appearances even more ludicrous because it required eight in a row to achieve such a record. Year number ten was successful for LeBron and the Heat. He once again won the regular season MVP, the fourth MVP in his career so far. Miami was the first seed this season and swept the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. In round 2 they advanced after defeating the Chicago Bulls.
They advanced to Eastern Conference Finals for the third straight year in a row. This time around, they faced the Pacers. The previous year, the Heat beat the Pacers in 6 games. It looked like more of the same as Miami took a 3-2 series lead. Instead, Indiana won game 6 and forced a game 7. Miami took care of business after heading home. They won in a 23 point blowout and advanced to the Finals for the third consecutive season.
James would get a chance at revenge against the Spurs after being swept in his first-ever Finals appearance. LeBron would be down in his fourth finals, once again. The series was 3-2 in favor of San Antonio. Trailing by ten to begin the fourth in an elimination game, the pressure once again amplified. Role player Mario Chalmbers started out the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, narrowing the gap between elimination and a game 7. The Heat then outscored the Spurs by four points in the following minutes. Kawhi Leonard and LeBron would trade blows before Ray Allen connected on a layup to give Miami the lead with six minutes to go.
With two minutes remaining, the Heat held on to a two-point lead that suddenly disappeared. Tony Parker hit a three-pointer and Manu Ginobili knocked down three of four free throws at the charity stripe. With thirty seconds remaining, Miami found themselves down five. With the season on the line, this was the definition of all or nothing. LeBron hit a three within eight seconds. Kawhi Leonard was fouled and made one of two from the free-throw line. LeBron once again fired from three but this time he did not connect. Bosh rebounded the ball and passed it out to Ray Allen where history was made. Bang! The sharpshooter nailed a three from the corner to push the game to OT. Miami held on and advanced to game seven. LeBron delivered 37 points and 12 boards, winning his second NBA championship. James was named Finals MVP in one of the most exciting Finals in NBA history.
After losing to the Spurs in the 2013-14 Finals, LeBron entered into free agency. Front offices across the league scrambled to clear cap space and create the best roster possible to convince LeBron to sign to their team. This was the second time in James’s career that he would enter into free agency, so he had the experience of going through the process before. Ultimately, LeBron decided to return home to Cleveland in an attempt to bring a championship to his hometown. Cleveland owned the 1st pick for the third time in the last four seasons. James was interested in contending so the Cavs traded the draft rights of Andrew Wiggins (1st pick) to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. Along with Kyrie Irving, this created a big three in Cleveland. LeBron finally had an exceptional roster around him in Cleveland.
The Cavs finished with the second seed in the playoffs and made quick work of the Celtics, sweeping them. This was great for Cleveland, but Kevin Love dislocated his shoulder in game 4 of the series. Suddenly, the Cavs championship aspirations looked bleak. Chicago was beaten in 6 the following round, and just like that, the Cavs were in the Conference Finals against the number one seeded Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta was simply no match for LeBron and Kyrie Irving, even with an injured Kevin Love. The Cavs advanced to the Finals in a total of fourteen games. Their opponent? The Golden State Warriors and MVP Stephen Curry.
The Warriors played a style of basketball that emphasized shooting three pointers and running small lineups. With Kevin Love sidelined, it was interesting to see if the Cavaliers could contend with the Warriors. LeBron scored 44 points in an exciting matchup only to lose by 100-108. It was odd to see James score near half his points and lose, but this was entirely necessary. Kyrie Irving fractured his kneecap in OT of game 1. He would not return for the rest of the series. James fought back and posted a 39-point triple double in 50 minutes of action. The Cavs took game 2 in the second straight overtime matchup. Returning to Cleveland, James scored 40 points and won the game. What LeBron did without stars Irving and Love in the 2015 Finals is remarkable. Though the next three games went to the Warriors, LeBron almost won the Finals MVP. 2016, however, was a different story.
The Cavs advanced to the Finals for the second straight year and LeBron’s sixth straight time. The Cavaliers faced the best team in NBA history according to regular season record. The 73-9 Warriors were on a mission to become the undisputed greatest team ever. LeBron was the only person who stood in their way. Unlike the previous season, the Warriors won the first two games in the series. Golden State looked extremely dominant but the Cavs answered back by blowing out the Warriors 120-90 in game 3. The Warriors were too good not to answer back. They won in double digits and held a 3-1 series lead. No team had ever come back from such a deficit in the NBA Finals. Once again, LeBron’s legacy was on the line. Once again, he persevered and scored a total of 43 points and 16 rebounds in a 15 point win. The Cavs returned home with a chance to push the series to seven games. With James once again scoring 41 points, the series did indeed end up advancing to a game 7. In game 7, LeBron famously blocked Andre Iguodala and Kyrie hit a a three to seal the victory. Cleveland was once again a city of champions.
The Purple and Gold
After the Warriors signed Kevin Durant to form a superteam there was no true chance of any team winning the title except Golden State. After two straight years of losing in the Finals to the Warriors in 2017 and 2018, James entered free agency. He had his sights set on LA, and joined the Los Angeles Lakers. In the 2018-19 season, the Lakers missed the playoffs due to injuries from LeBron and other key contributors. LeBron was missing one thing, a running mate. He had Dwayne Wade in Miami, and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. In LA there was no true star next to James, an essential component to any championship caliber team.
They shipped point guard Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart along with the fourth pick in the 2020 NBA draft for Anthony Davis from the Pelicans. The Lakers were high on his list of trade destinations as he was looking to play for a contending team, and they shared the same agent in Rich Paul. 2019-20 was entirely different compared to the prior season. The Lakers finished with the number one seed in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, no one knew if the NBA would crown a champion. The coronavirus shut down the league indefinitely. As we all know, eventually the NBA opened the Bubble. This season was historic.
With daily COVID-19 tests and an environment different than any other in the NBA before, one thing remained; basketball. The Lakers advanced in the first round defeating the Portland Trailblazers in 5 games. Round 2 featured the Houston Rockets and star guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Once again, the Lakers won. Anthony Davis was huge for the Lakers this postseason. In the Western Conference Finals, Los Angeles faced the Denver Nuggets who had come back from two 3-1 deficits in one playoffs, the first team to ever do so. The Lakers won both games 1 and 2, and never looked back. They won each series in five games before advancing to the Finals. Davis and James were connecting on all cylinders, AD hit a game winning buzzer-beater in the Conference Finals. James was once again in the finals at the old (basketball) age of 35.
Jimmy Butler and the fifth-seeded Heat were the only team to stand in the way of the LA Lakers. The Lakers won game 1 by eighteen and game 2 by ten. The gritty Heat won game 3. The Lakers’ response in game 4 would most likely decide the series. James produced, recording 28 points and 12 boards. LA, up 3-1, had the series locked away. Except, the Heat took game 5, forcing the series to a sixth game. James knew this was a must win. The Lakers won thanks to LeBron’s triple double and he was named Finals MVP for the fourth time in his career. Today, LeBron has appeared in ten Finals, and won four championships. He owns the record for most triple doubles in the FInals and is top two in NBA finals points, assists, field goals, three pointers, and steals.