This year's NBA Most Valuable Player Award race started at last season's Larry O'Brien Trophy presentation.
It was at the end of a pointed victory speech in which James called for respect, reasonably, for coach Frank Vogel and general manager Rob Pelinka, both of whom were not recognized in awards voting. James himself had finished a distant second to Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP. But his performance in the Orlando bubble made clear his status as the league's top player despite Antetokounmpo's back-to-back awards and Kawhi Leonard's 2019 Toronto title run.
It's been eight years now since James won his fourth MVP. His pursuit of a fifth, which would tie Michael Jordan and Russell for second most behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's six, has been complicated.
He has an opportunity over the next month to solidify his standing with the Lakers slated to play without Anthony Davis sidelined with aggravated tendinosis in his right Achilles. If James carries the Lakers through during this post-Super Bowl period, when the high-profile made-for-TV games launch -- his play has been typically strong this season anyway -- he will have an important pillar in any MVP argument firmly on his side: narrative.