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LeBron: For Lakers fans, respect must be earned

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It wasn’t long after LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 that murals popped up around town — only to be vandalized.

It was presumed his prompt elevation to the “King of LA” and to the pantheon of Lakers legends had rubbed some in the loyal Lakers fan base the wrong way.

Now one victory away from leading the storied franchise to its 17th world championship, James reflected on his two seasons with the Lakers and how he has had to earn everything he gets from the purple and gold fan base that also has had a lasting love affair with Kobe Bryant.

“Well, one, what I’ve learned being a Laker is that the Laker faithful don’t give a damn what you’ve done before,” James said on Thursday. “Until you become a Laker, you’ve got to do it with them, as well.”

On Friday in Game 5, the Lakers can win their first world championship since the 2009-10 season. The Lakers lead the Miami Heat 3-1 in this best-of-seven NBA Finals.

This is James’ 10th NBA Finals appearance. James is attempting to win his fourth championship overall and win a title with his third different franchise.

Still, James says his highly decorated career before coming to Los Angeles didn’t matter much to a Lakers fan base used to winning championships. And while Lakers fans have embraced big free-agent signings such as Shaquille O’Neal in the past, the fan base is also accustomed to winning titles with Lakers lifers such as Magic Johnson and Bryant, who played their entire careers with the franchise.

“They don’t care about your résumé at all until you become a Laker,” James said. “Then you’ve got to do it as a Laker, and then they respect you. I’ve learned that.”

One thing James knows how to do from his wealth of Finals experience is close on this stage. He is 3-0 in the NBA Finals in games with a chance to clinch the championship. With a victory on Friday, he can become the first player to be 4-0 in such situations, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

While James authored a comeback from down 3-1 to beat Golden State and bring Cleveland its first world championship in 52 years in 2016, winning a title with the Lakers would be another defining moment in his legendary career.

James has helped the Lakers navigate a tumultuous season that started with controversy in China between the NBA and China during the preseason, Bryant’s tragic death, an unprecedented pandemic and hiatus and then the season restarting in a bubble. At 35, he led the NBA in assists with 10.2 per game but finished second to Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in the MVP voting.

On the same day that the NBA announced that LA Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank was named NBA Executive of the Year by a panel of NBA executives, forward Anthony Davis said the Lakers are used to being snubbed for season awards.

Davis was asked about Rob Pelinka, Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager, finishing seventh in the voting for Executive of the Year.

“That’s kind of been a thing this year,” Davis said. “With myself with Defensive Player of the Year, LeBron with MVP, now Rob with Executive of the Year.

“But if we’re able to win one more game, then no one cares about those other awards. We’ll all be champions.”

Leading the Lakers to their first title since Phil Jackson and Bryant did so a decade ago will only enhance James’ legacy. But the Lakers star is letting others analyze what it all means.

“I don’t really think about it too much,” James said when asked about what this season means for 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.”

James referenced being placed on the front of a Wheaties cereal box this week featuring students from James’ I Promise School in Akron, Ohio. He said seeing the kids on the box and videos and pictures of his mother unveiling the box in Akron was the best “I’ve ever seen, that I could ever get.”

“The game of basketball will pass me by,” James said. “There will be a new group of young kids, 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.”

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