How LeBron James’ legacy is impacted by In-Season Tournament MVP and Lakers’ NBA Cup win

But how does this affect LeBron James’ legacy?

On X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, the above question has become a go-to response often used in jest under NBA-related posts that, more often than not, pertain to the Lakers superstar. Now that James has earned MVP honors while leading Los Angeles to the first-ever NBA Cup, it’s a fair time to ask the question once again.

Has James, a four-time MVP, four-time champion and four-time Finals MVP, actually added to his legacy by winning the NBA’s In-Season Tournament? He may not have added anything substantial to it, but he certainly didn’t take anything away from it by winning.

“We made history,” James said moments after LA’s NBA Cup win over Indiana. “Anytime you’re on the right side of history, you’ll take it, so the first In-Season Tournament belongs to the Los Angeles Lakers. That will never ever be topped. Ever.”

While the In-Season Tournament has been viewed as an overwhelming success, the Lakers’ NBA Cup win has been received in mixed ways. Did they celebrate too much for an in-season title? Does it realistically move the needle in a culture where rings reign supreme? Was their road to get there even difficult?

No matter where you stand on the answers to the above questions, there is something to be said about the fact that LA was the first to do it and that it was led by James in his 21st season.

MORE: The biggest winners and losers from In-Season Tournament

A reminder of LeBron James’ unprecedented longevity

At this point, James has made a habit of defying Father Time. In Year 21, he’s still playing at an All-NBA level. And even if James isn’t at the peak level that he displayed during his MVP seasons in Cleveland and Miami, what he’s doing now is unprecedented, to say the least.

The In-Season Tournament’s structure couldn’t have been better suited for James to show exactly how special he is, even at this stage.

With an isolated span of seven tournament games that meant a little more, James took his game to another gear, averaging 26.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.6 assists while shooting 56.8 percent from the field and 60.6 percent from 3-point range in In-Season Tournament play. Each game felt like a playoff series in itself.

Specific to the Knockout Round, James was even better, averaging 28.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.7 assists over three winner-take-all games. James’ performances in each win-or-go-home scenario serve as reminders that even as he’s weeks away from his 39th birthday, the list of players you’d take over him in an elimination game is very short.

Depending on who you ask, there might not be a list at all.

As much as James would like to add another NBA title to his resume, he above anyone else knows how hard it is to reach that mountaintop. For a Lakers team that, as constructed, is flawed but capable of making a deep run, winning something tangible is a mark of success for this season and could even provide them with the momentum needed to win on a bigger scale.

Surely, James and this Lakers team would trade the NBA Cup for the Larry O’Brien Trophy 100 times out of 100, but they won’t apologize for winning the first, especially if the second is still within reach. And with time, the first of the two titles will at least hold more weight than it currently does.

MORE: NBA In-Season Tournament MVP and All-Tournament Team results

Winning the first means something

Ultimately, as fans of the game, we know that the reason these players and teams compete is to be the last team standing in June. No matter what changes in the future, that will remain the same.

The NBA’s In-Season Tournament achieved its purpose of strumming up more interest during the early stages of the season, implementing a financial bonus to add a little extra motivation for the players, who were already motivated by their competitive nature.

Simply put, based on its resounding success, the NBA’s In-Season Tournament is here to stay.

WATCH: Follow LeBron James and the Lakers all season long on Sling TV

10, 15 or even 20 years down the line, when the In-Season Tournament and race for the NBA Cup is something we come to expect within the 82-game season, people will look back in the record books to see that the first-ever tournament title was captured by a Lakers team led by James.

Records will be broken and the cup will be held by various franchises but the one record that will stand the test of time is that the Lakers will always be the first to have achieved the feat and James, at 38 years old in his 21st season, was the first to win MVP.

As for what it all means for his legacy, James didn’t need an NBA Cup or In-Season Tournament MVP to move up in the pantheon of all-time greats. Impressive as the accolades are, they’re like investment bonds.

As the prestige of the NBA Cup grows with time, so too will the value of the accolades won during the tournament. Sometime in the future, the value of an NBA Cup title and IST MVP will reach their full maturity, and then we can gauge what it adds to James’ legacy.

For now, just use these performances as a reminder of James’ unparalleled and unprecedented dominance at this stage in his career and a sign that this level of play isn’t stopping any time soon.


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