At this point in time, LeBron James‘ legacy is set in stone. Even if he were to never play in another NBA game, he would go down in history as a three-time champion, multiple-time MVP, and one of the best players the league has ever seen. That wasn’t always the case though. Back in 2012, there were a lot of questions — and was a lot pressure — surrounding James. He had yet to win a title, and was coming off of an underwhelming performance against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals.
Heading into the 2012 postseason, James knew he needed to deliver, and he did. As we know now, James helped to lead the Heat through the Eastern Conference and to a Finals victory over the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder. Over the course of that particular postseason, James averaged 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.9 steals in 42.7 minutes per performance.
One of the most memorable series from that postseason was the Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Heat and Boston Celtics. The series went the full seven games, and featured an epic Game 6 performance from James who poured in 45 points and 13 rebounds while facing elimination on the road. The game was one of the best performances of James’ illustrious career, and it helped to propel the Heat to the first of two consecutive titles.
Had the Heat lost the game, the course of NBA history may look drastically different. During an Instagram Live video chat with fans on Thursday, James revealed that at the time he feared that a loss in the Celtics series would result in the dismantling of Miami’s “Big Three” that consisted of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. James also knew that his legacy would take a huge hit with a loss.
“My mentality was if we lose, [Heat president] Pat Riley may break us all up. And I [didn’t] want that,” James said, via ESPN. “It might be the quickest breakup in basketball history… Not only might they break it all up, but my legacy is going to take a huge, huge hit if I don’t go out here and perform at an all-time high. Win, lose or draw, I had to be focused. I had to lock in and lead us to victory. I didn’t know if it was going to happen that way, but that was my mindset.”
You can see the highlights from James’ epic Game 6 performance against the Celtics in 2012 below:
The outcome of that series had an enormous impact on the league’s landscape. For James, rather than hurting his legacy, his electric performance helped to shape it. For the Celtics, the loss in the series effectively ended Boston’s own “Big Three” era, as sharpshooter Ray Allen signed with the Heat in free agency mere months later; a move that didn’t sit well with his Celtics teammates that viewed him as a traitor.
Regardless of the way that things actually turned out, it’s still fun to think about the potential ripple effect of what would have happened if the Heat had lost that series to the Celtics. Would Wade or Bosh have been moved? Would James have won his first ring elsewhere? Would Erik Spoelstra have survived, or would he have been replaced on Miami’s sideline? We’ll never know the answers to those questions, but they sure are interesting to consider.