2020 NBA Finals | Lakers vs. Heat

Ahead of Game 5, LeBron James leaves legacy chatter aside

Anthony Davis hopes to 'close it out in the Black Mamba uniforms' and honor Kobe Bryant

Sekou Smith

Sekou Smith

ORLANDO, Fla. — When you’ve piled up enough trophies and accolades to fill up two careers, taking measure of your own success becomes a bit more difficult.

For Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, it’s the little things that count.

Sure, he’s one win away from claiming the fourth championship of his career and potentially his fourth Finals MVP.

But his legacy isn’t on his mind. That’s for another day.

> Finals Game 5: Heat vs. Lakers, Friday at 9 ET on ABC

A Wheaties box featuring students from his I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, however, strikes him. It’s next level, even for a man playing in his 10th Finals and collecting statistical milestones with every minute he continues to play in his 17th season.

“I don’t really think about it too much,” he said when asked about his legacy. “I think the story will be told how it’s supposed to be told and be written how it’s supposed to be written. But I don’t live my life thinking about legacy. What I do off the floor is what means more to me than what I do on the floor. Seeing my kids on the back of a Wheaties box yesterday was one of the best moments of my life … The game of basketball will pass me by. There will be a new group of young kids and vets and rookies throughout the course of this game.

“So I can’t worry about that as far as on the floor. How I move, how I walk, what I preach, what I talk about, how I inspire the next generation is what matters to me the most. And if you appreciate my game, then cool. If you didn’t, then that’s cool, too. That’s what it boils down to.”

Payton delivers words of inspiration to Heat

Don’t look for the Heat to be intimidated by the circumstances of Game 5, down 3-1 with their “backs against the wall,” as Bam Adebayo put it.

This is, after all, a team filled with underdogs and a franchise that has made its mark playing with a giant chip on its shoulder under the guidance of Pat Riley.

They got a timely and inspirational reminder of what Heat culture means Thursday morning from Hall of Fame point guard and champion Gary Payton, who penned an ode to the organization that was published by The Players’ Tribune Thursday morning.

His words struck a nerve with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who was a Riley assistant on that 2006 championship team.

“I was really moved by it, particularly coming from GP,” Spoelstra said. “I had goose bumps. It was just the right timing, and what a pleasant surprise, to come from one of the former champions. He knows how difficult competing for a title is, regardless of how you get there, what the score is in the series. At this point, it’s the first team to four. That’s the only thing that matters.”

‘Mamba’ uniforms hit home for Lakers

LeBron said he had nothing to do with the Lakers deciding to wear their “Black Mamba” uniforms for Game 5 and wasn’t sure who made that call. He’s all in, though, as are the rest of the Lakers.

“Obviously, until you get your hands on them, you don’t get to see the detail in them,” James said of the uniforms. “It’s super-duper detailed. It has that snake Mamba print on it. It means something. Something more than just a uniform. It represents an individual who gave the franchise 20 years of his blood, sweat and tears and his dedication to his craft, both on and off the floor, to make that franchise be proud of him, and hopefully vice versa.”

They’re undefeated this season in those uniforms and have an opportunity to hone the franchise legend months after Bryant, his daughter, GiGi, and seven others passed away in a January helicopter crash north of Los Angeles.

“Just to be playing in the Mamba jersey (is) humbling to us and means a lot,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “We say we don’t want to lose in the Mamba jerseys, which we haven’t done yet. We’re here to take the last game.”

The uniforms clearly carry added weight with different players.

“It’s perfect for me, man,” Markieff Morris said. “Growing up in the Philadelphia area, a lot of us idolized Kobe being from Philly.”

For Anthony Davis, it’s about all that and more.

“If we come out and do what we’re supposed to do, then we can remain undefeated,” he said. “We just think that for all the things that happened this season, with our team specifically and our organization, that to be able to close it out in the Black Mamba uniforms will just make it all worth it. Obviously his legacy in the NBA and then just with the organization, period, is something special, and for us to close it out in his honor is something that we look forward to.”

He continued: “If we come in and do the things that we’re supposed to do on both ends of the floor, then we can remain undefeated and close this thing out and make this moment even more special.”

The Laker learning curve

He considers himself one of the most diligent students of the game, so it wasn’t a heavy lift to LeBron’s system when he immersed himself in the culture of one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, and especially the NBA.

He certainly has learned a few things along the way, particularly about Lakers’ fans and their extremely high standards for the players who represent the franchise.

“What I’ve learned being a Laker is that the Laker faithful don’t give a damn what you’ve done before,” he said. “Until you become a Laker, you’ve got to do it with them, as well. They don’t care about your resume at all until you become a Laker. Then you’ve got to do it as a Laker, and then they respect you. I’ve learned that.”

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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