LeBron James has had a colorful career, to say the least. Unlike other great players in the past that have stuck it out with one or two teams throughout their entire career, James has taken a different path towards greatness. As of writing, LeBron has had four stops in his career with three different teams — all of which have had a significant and lasting impact on his legacy as a whole.
Below we rank the four iterations of LeBron James to determine which version of “The King” stands out the most and why.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (2018 – )
This has to rank as fourth by default simply because as of writing, we haven’t seen LeBron do anything significant during his stint with Hollywood.
James joined the Purple & Gold in the summer of 2018 following his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unlike his first departure, no jerseys were burned (that we know of, at least), and that’s likely because he left the Cavs on a much higher note this time around. After all, he parted ways with the team (and the city) after winning the first championship for the franchise in its entire history.
LeBron’s first season with the Lakers was forgettable, to say the least. He was doing typical LeBron James things on the basketball court, but injuries got in the way of his debut season in Hollywood. James ended up playing just 55 games for the Lakers, and the worst part was that he missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 long years.
James’ second season with LA was much different. In came Anthony Davis and finally, LeBron had a bona fide superstar beside him again. The Lakers emerged as one of the favorites to win the 2020 championship, and it remains to be seen if they will deliver.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (2003 – 2010)
The Cavs drafted a 19-year-old LeBron James in 2003 as the first overall pick. He made an immediate impact in the league as soon as he arrived, and this resulted in him winning the Rookie of the Year in 2004.
During his first seven years in the league, we saw the unadulterated, all-out version of LeBron during his younger years. In 2007, in just his fourth season, James carried the Cavs to a memorable trip to the Finals — his first ever — where they were, unfortunately, handily defeated by eventual champs, the San Antonio Spurs, in a clean, four-game sweep.
It was towards the latter part of his first stint in Cleveland that LeBron raised his game to another level. He led the league in scoring during the 2007-08 campaign with 30.0 points per game. James was named to his first All-Defensive team in 2009. He won back-to-back MVP titles in 2009 and 2010, and at that point, he proved that he was, without question, the best player in the entire league.
The primary reason we ranked this iteration at third is simply because he never won anything with the Cavs during this time. Cleveland suffered disappointing playoff exits year after year, and to make matters worse, James ended his first stint with the Cavs by walking away in 2010 as a free agent. To say that the Cavs faithful were not pleased with his decision would be a complete understatement.
4. Miami Heat (2010 – 2014)
Everybody knew that LeBron joined the Miami Heat to join the infamous “Heatles” Big 3 with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with one thing in mind: winning the NBA title. He did exactly that, winning his first career championship in 2012, and followed it up with a second consecutive title the following season. LeBron and the Heat were undoubtedly the biggest villains in the league at that time, but still, James was able to exorcise his demons after finally winning an NBA championship in his ninth season in the league.
In four seasons with the Heat, LeBron led the team to four consecutive Finals. he may have been playing alongside two other superstars in Wade and Bosh, but there’s no denying that James was still this team’s alpha dog. James added two more MVP awards to his trophy cabinet, winning the title in 2012 and 2013. He also won the Finals MVP on both seasons, capping off what were perhaps the most memorable couple of seasons throughout his career.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (2014 – 2018)
What makes LeBron’s second stint with the Cavs so amazing is the narrative. The Prodigal Son had made his return, and he was out to redeem himself. LeBron picked up right where he left off with the Heat, taking the Cavs to four more consecutive Finals trip, making it a record eight straight for him at the pinnacle of the sport.
While it is true that James won two championships with the Heat, as opposed to just one with the Cavs, the fashion by which he did the latter is what makes his second stint with Cleveland over the edge. In the Finals, Cleveland faced off with their arch-nemesis, the Golden State Warriors, who at that time, were in full dynasty mode.
The Dubs were going for their second consecutive championship, after defeating the Cavs at the same stage in the previous season. The Stephen Curry-led Warriors set a record of 73 wins in the regular season, and were the overwhelming favorites come the Finals. Up 3-1 in the series, Golden State was on the brink of winning back-to-back titles. James simply would not accept defeat, willing his side to an astounding, and never-before-seen comeback to win the series in seven games. No other team in league history has come back from that huge a deficit in the Finals.
Many consider this achievement by LeBron as his greatest feat in his career, with more than a few folks believing that this cemented his status as the GOAT.