LeBron James has carved several more lines onto his Greatest Of All Time resume this season. He's now the all-time scoring leader. He's now fourth all-time in assists.
But it's that fifth ring -- seemingly impossible months ago, but slightly more conceivable after Sunday's Game 1 win against the Memphis Grizzlies -- that years from now could serve as the most important argument from the 2022-23 NBA season that LeBron did indeed pass Michael Jordan as the best to ever play the game.
Yes, being the sport's all-time scorer is overwhelmingly important in such an argument, whether or not youwhen it happened back in early February.
And, yes, also being fourth all-time in assists is its own remarkable data point. Just this past season, LeBron climbed on that list from eighth to fourth, passing Magic Johnson, Mark Jackson and Steve Nash.
Those are big deals. But they were expected. One of LeBron's all-time great skills has been his availability, and that, even 10 years ago, made it easy to do some scratch-pad arithmetic and see he was overwhelmingly likely to rise to those places on those all-time lists.
But the Lakers winning an NBA title this year was never a clear-cut likelihood, especially as they stumbled to a 2-10 start and became engulfed in drama, recriminations and doubt. Recovering from that would be tantalizingly more helpful in an argument between His Airness and King James.
An unlikely fifth ring this season would cut LeBron's deficit versus Jordan to one. Perhaps as important, it would give LeBron one more than Steph Curry, undercutting the argument already percolating out there you can't be the GOAT if you're not even the most dominant winner of your generation.
It's a specious argument, but still common among Jordan lovers (of which I'm one) looking for any reason to shout at those who think LeBron is probably already the GOAT (and I'm one of those, too).
But there's something more powerful for LeBron's case if somehow he, Anthony Davis and this recalibrated, post-NBA trade deadline team can go all the way: The narrative force it would conjure.
We like to think arguments over the GOAT simply come down to facts -- that, in the end, the stats and data and rings will win the day. But a general coalescence of the zeitgeist here will be as much about heart as numbers, as much about feel as some no-doubt case for one spectacular player over the other, as much about what people think rather than what they reason.
Jordan's resume is, of course, remarkable. But so are the narrative forces around him -- the myth that's emerged from the math of six rings, six Finals MVPs, no Finals series losses, 10 scoring titles, five regular season MVPs, and so on.
It's wanting to Be Like Mike. It's an aura of greatness. Things like "The Last Dance" and the new film, "Air," are significantly important in how people remember and process a career like Jordan's.
Most fans aren't spending time at Basketball Reference or putting together a presentation for Sloan to get the truth of Jordan vs. LeBron. They're relying as much on a feeling as they are some set of absolute, math-based facts.
Which brings us to this Lakers team.
Most of us, myself included, wrote them off months ago. Even the deadline moves that shipped out a disgruntled Russell Westbrook and brought in D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt didn't convince a lot of us the Lakers were bound for anything other than failure.
For much of the year, the idea bubbled up that LeBron's best days -- and therefore his championship hopes -- were behind him. He missed most of March. Anthony Davis, per usual, missed ample time. The idea of the Lakers even making the playoffs was hardly a foregone conclusion. A championship felt like a purple-and-gold pipe dream.
There's something powerful, and lasting, about a weathered all-time great squeezing out one more title from some depth of their talent in the face of such doubts and difficulties. There's a magic to it, a touch of such rare greatness, that feels somehow more important than victories during the strength of their youth.
Think of a 43-year-old Tom Brady winning yet another Super Bowl, as he did with the Bucs. Or Rafa Nadal winning his 22nd Grand Slam title last summer at 36. Or even, in its own way, Steph Curry last June, at 34, dusting off the age and cobwebs and decreasing expectations to seal another championship.
There's reason to think LeBron -- even at 38 -- can do it this season.
He and AD are as healthy as they're going to be after a grueling regular season, and both looked sharp against Memphis. This new group plays excellent basketball together, highlighted by the unlikely Hachimura-Reaves duo that led the way in that Game 1 win. And in related news, they like one another, which is a serious upgrade from the Westbrook era. The Western Conference, as one GM told me recently, is the most wide open it's been in history.
And this new-look Lakers team has been as good as almost any squad since the trade deadline.
The Lakers are 18-9, which is the fourth-best record in that span, and it translates to a 55-win season if that level of play were stretched over a full 82-game campaign. What would a 55-27 mark have been in the West this season? Try first place, two games better than the 53-29 Denver Nuggets and four games better than the 51-31 Memphis Grizzlies, the Lakers' first-round opponent.
The only teams with better records since the trade deadline?
Now, the Lakers have snagged home-court advantage in this series against a young Grizzlies team that must fret over the extent of Morant injury.
The notion of the Lakers winning it all is absolutely possible. All it takes is a GOAT summoning his greatness for one more ring -- and for perhaps a final, surprising and lasting argument in the case of Jordan vs. LeBron.