LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Purple-and-gold confetti fell on LeBron James late Saturday night as he sat on the court in a largely empty arena and digested the fresh reality that he was headed to his ninth N.B.A. finals in 10 seasons. One of the first people he thought about was Anthony Davis, his teammate on the Los Angeles Lakers.
“This is the reason why I wanted to be a teammate of his and why I brought him here,” James said after the Lakers closed out the Denver Nuggets with a 117-107 win in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. “I wanted him to see things that he had not seen before in this league. To be able to come through for him meant a lot for me personally.”
Their partnership has the Lakers four wins from the franchise’s 17th championship — the Lakers will face the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics in the N.B.A. finals — and it has been mutually beneficial from the beginning. Davis, a 27-year-old power forward, recalled an early conversation with James, 35, after they became teammates before the start of the season.
“When I first got here, he told me that he wants to give me my first ring,” Davis said. “And I told him that I want to get him back to the finals.”
The Lakers have endured their share of adversity this season — the league’s longest season, by the calendar. They found themselves caught up in a geopolitical feud during a preseason trip to China, then mourning the death of Kobe Bryant in January. After a four-month hiatus brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the Lakers traveled to Walt Disney World for the N.B.A.’s restart with their lofty goals intact: championship or bust.
“It’s been a crazy obstacle course for our franchise,” James said.
Even as he nears the end of his 17th season, a season that started nearly 12 months ago — “An eternity,” his teammate Jared Dudley said — James has been thrilling to watch.
On Saturday, he was at his best, which is saying a lot: 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists while shooting 15 of 25 from the field. He scored 9 straight points for the Lakers late in the fourth quarter. During a subsequent timeout, his teammate JaVale McGee pretended to place a crown on James’s head.
“It’s incredible,” Michael Malone, the coach of the Nuggets, said. “When you