LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers begin the final challenge in their bid to return to the summit of basketball today when they take on the Miami Heat team in game one of the NBA Finals.
The Lakers, who will be chasing a 17th NBA championship against Miami in the finals, were one of two teams who reportedly voted to abandon the season altogether on August 26 following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.
That walkout threat was only headed off by the intervention of former President Barack Obama, who reportedly counseled James and other players against a season-ending boycott.
A little over one month later, and the 35-year-old James is now girding himself for a 10th appearance in an NBA Finals, a tally bettered by only two players in the history of the league.
"This is what I came here for," James said after the Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets to clinch the Western Conference championship and book a place in the finals.
Standing in the way of James' bid for a fourth NBA championship is a Miami team who are happy to be cast in the role of underdogs.
The Heat have excelled through the playoffs with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and GoranDragic outstanding, routing the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks 4-1 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals before accounting for the Boston Celtics 4-2.
Butler, who joined Miami in 2019 from the Philadelphia 76ers, says the team must neutralise James to have any chance against the Lakers.
"The main key, and it's been like this for a very long time, if you want to win, you're going to have to go through a LeBron James-led team," Butler said.
"At the end of the day, that's what it normally comes down to,” he added.*
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