When the NBA Finals tip off Thursday night it will mark the eighth consecutive Finals appearance for LeBron James—a feat unprecedented outside of those who played for the 1960’s Celtics (who played far fewer playoff games). This stretch of dominance by James has him in the conversation as the greatest player in NBA history. The amount of physical and mental energy required to make deep playoff runs every year—not to mention the level of talent required—is difficult to even imagine. To put LeBron’s accomplishment in perspective, let’s take a look back at the state of the Portland Trail Blazers when the streak started.
The last season to not have LeBron James in the NBA Finals was the 2009-2010 season. The Blazers went 50-32 that season, earning the sixth seed in the Western Conference. They were led by Brandon Roy who averaged 21.5 points per game and was named Third Team All-NBA. Depressing side note: Brandon Roy and LeBron James are the same age.
Portland lost in six to the Phoenix Suns who were led by Steve Nash, Amar’e Soudemire, Jason Richardson, and Grant Hill (Steve Kerr was the Sun’s president and general manager). Individual game scoring leaders for the Blazers included Andre Miller, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Martell Webster. Marcus Camby was the led the team in rebounding. Other important Blazers that season include Juwan Howard, Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, Dante Cunningham, and Nicolas Batum (his 2nd year in the leage). Greg Oden played 21 games for Portland—the last time he would wear a Blazer jersey.
LeBron’s Finals streak began in the 2010-2011 season. Again, the Blazers secured the sixth seed and again lost in six games in round 1, this time to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. In a game most Blazer fans probably remember, Brandon Roy scored 18 fourth quarter points to lead a dramatic comeback in game 4. In a game most Blazer fans probably forgot, Gerald Wallace led the team with 32 point and 12 boards in the game 6 loss.
One other interesting note from the 2010-2011 season: the Rising Stars Rookie vs. Sophomore Game during All-Star weekend featured James Harden, Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, and Wesley Matthews on the sophomore team. The rookie team included DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, and eventual rookie of the year Blake Griffin. This means LeBron James has made the NBA Finals every year of Cousins’, Wall’s, and Griffin’s careers.
Looking back on the Blazer teams from eight years ago, it feels like a lifetime ago. Several iterations of the team have come and gone while LeBron’s dominance over the Eastern Conference has remained. The last time LeBron wasn’t in the NBA Finals Brandon Roy was an All-NBA level player and Zach Collins was in middle school. Eight years is a long time.