LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As LeBron James sat in front of a video conference screen following the Los Angeles Lakers‘ Game 3 win on Saturday, a falsetto voice could be heard off-camera saying, “Oooh, LeBron,” as James was asked about passing Tim Duncan for No. 2 on the all-time playoff wins list.
The mock adulation came from Anthony Davis, whose 29 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists in L.A.’s 116-108 win to go up 2-1 on the Portland Trail Blazers would have been even more impressive had James not dropped 38 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists of his own.
This was no rift. Rather, it’s the way James and Davis show respect, however irreverent it might be, as the co-leaders of the Lakers.
“I mean, we’re two guys who just like to have fun,” Davis said when asked about his relationship with James. “We like to work. We like to win. But off the court, we’re just two guys who like to have fun. Two guys who are big kids and play Xbox and have game nights back in L.A.”
The two first-round wins over Portland that James and Davis have put together so far have lifted James’ career playoff win total to 158, moving him past Duncan’s total of 157. Only former Laker guard Derek Fisher has more, with 161.
“It’s just always surreal for me when my name is associated with any of the greats,” James said of the feat. “And obviously, you know how great Tim Duncan was in this league with that franchise. … Basically, he lived in the postseason. That was his address. So for me to be linked with a great in the Big Fundamental, it means a lot.”
James and Duncan played each other in the NBA finals three times — 2007, 2013 and 2014 — with the San Antonio Spurs victorious twice. After their first meeting, a 4-0 sweep by the Spurs after James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the championship round at 22 years old, Duncan grabbed James by both arms when the series was over and told him, “This is going to be your league in a little while.” Then he tagged on a joke: “But I appreciate you giving it to us this year.”
Duncan’s words were prescient. James has gone on to win four MVPs and three championships and make eight more Finals appearances since then.
“How did I feel in that moment? We had just got swept, so I didn’t feel great about it. I actually felt like s—,” James said Saturday. “And he gave me a smile by saying that.”
James has taken a similar approach, being gracious toward his peers in the sport, but he credits his youth coaches, Dru Joyce, Frank Walker and Keith Dambrot, for instilling a sense of stewardship in him long before that exchange with Duncan.
“They just gave me so much game, not only on the floor but also off the floor,” James said. “When you have that type of knowledge and you continue to grow throughout the years, I feel like it’s very important for me to give back to the next generation if they need it, when they want it.”
In Davis, James has found a willing vessel to fill with the wisdom he has gathered in his 17-year career. Why have the 35-year-old James and 27-year-old Davis clicked so easily?
“Because we’re two guys who know who we are,” James said. “We know who we are as human beings. We’re not trying to be nobody else but our own identity, our own self.
“And when you know yourself and when you’re confident in what you do both on and off the floor and you know what you represent, then there’s no ego. There’s no ego. We want both of us to succeed, both on and off the floor. We want our families to be happy. We want each other to try to be as happy as possible. There’s no ego, so when you’re able to figure that out in life — who you are and what you stand for — then nothing else matters.”
Their joint impact, just three games into their first postseason as teammates, is already historic. Saturday marked the first time two Laker teammates went for 25-plus points and 10-plus rebounds since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal did so in Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference finals against the Sacramento Kings. By tacking on eight assists apiece to their stat lines, their night was made even rarer. They became the second pair of teammates to go for 25-10-8 in a playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, joining Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in 2014.
While James stated the obvious after he and Davis combined to score or assist on 92 of the Lakers’ 116 points (79%) in Game 3 — “I think we definitely work well together” — Davis was asked if he ever gives advice to James.
“He’s been doing this for a long time,” Davis said. “There’s nothing I can say that he hasn’t heard or seen already. My job’s just to kind of be there. If he wants to talk about something, I’m there, but in the game, he’s so locked in. I’ll be talking to him sometimes, he just stares straight ahead. I’ll be like, ‘All right, he heard me. I’ll just leave him alone.’
“He’s been doing this for a long time, been in this situation for many a time. It’s not much that he hasn’t seen. I still say what I got to say, and even if he doesn’t respond, I know he’s listening.”