With the Cleveland Cavaliers' Eastern Conference Finals win over the Atlanta Hawks, LeBron James clinched a bid to the NBA Finals for the fifth straight year. It's been a long time since anybody has done that. It's been a REALLY long time since anybody has done that:
Yes, only 10 players in NBA history have been to the NBA Finals in five straight seasons. Eight of them played on the Boston Celtics in the 1960s, and of those, seven are in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a player. (The eighth, Satch Sanders, is in as a "contributor".)
The other two players are LeBron James and James Jones. (Jones didn't play in the 2011 Finals, but he was still on the Miami Heat roster when they made it). We think LeBron is just a little bit more responsible for the success of the Heat and Cavaliers than Jones.
Of course, the NBA was a lot different when Russell and company made the Finals every year. There were only nine teams then: five in the Western conference, four in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics only had to be better than three other teams to make the Finals. Now, James' teams have to be better than 14 opponents to make the Finals.
In the 50 years since, nobody has been able to pull it off. Michael Jordan did it three times in a row twice, then retired. Kobe Bryant also made it three times in a row twice. Larry Bird managed to do it four times in a row. None of the greats from a half-century of basketball managed to be this good this consistently.
LeBron has made it to the Finals with good teammates and he's made it to the Finals with bad teammates. This year, he's getting to the Finals with his team's second-best player (Kyrie Irving) hobbled and his team's third-best player (Kevin Love) out for the playoffs.
He's made it to the Finals in Miami. He's made it to to the Finals in Cleveland. He's made it to the Finals as the Eastern Conference's top seed. He's made it to the Finals as a non-top seed.
Sure, LeBron has played in the Eastern Conference, which has been weak. Sure, he has failed to win in the NBA Finals several times. But LeBron James has been so good, so often, that even in his bad years he has been on the NBA's second-best team. That's miraculous.
Even if James falls short against whoever the Western Conference produces, we should take a moment to praise him.