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It's strange to start over when you're at the top. 

To have three NBA championships, four Most Valuable Players awards and eight-straight Finals appearances mean nothing. 

But it's a cold truth that James experienced when he joined Los Angeles' premier sports franchise in 2018. 

"The Laker faithful don't give a damn what you've done before," James said in a videoconference Thursday. "Until you become a Laker, you've got to do it with them as well. They don't care about your resume at all until you become a Laker. Then you've got to do it as a Laker, and then they respect you. I've learned that."

It's been a bumpy ride for James. 

When he chose to leave Cleveland for the Lakers, his motives were questioned. When he failed to take them to the playoffs last season after missing 17-straight games because of a groin injury, his greatness was questioned. 

Now, he's one win away from earning their undying love. 

The Lakers have a 3-1 series lead over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals with a potential closeout opportunity in Game 5 on Friday. They're 48 minutes away from winning their 17th championship, a feat that would tie them with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history. 

James is widely considered one of the greatest players of all time. He doesn't need to prove anything.  

But this playoff run has been especially important to him. 

He called Game 4 "one of the biggest games of my career." He stays up until 4:30 a.m. watching film. He's played 46 1/2 of 48 fourth quarter minutes over the last four games at age 35. 

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For a player who has accomplished so much, resuscitating one of the greatest franchises in sports from the depths of a six-season playoff drought has become his obsession. 

It was already his goal. 

But it became personal after Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in Jan., and James publicly vowed to carry on his legacy.

When the Lakers take the court Friday in their most important game in 10 years, they'll be wearing their Black Mamba jerseys that Bryant helped design. 

It was a last-minute switch. They were supposed to wear them in Game 7. But with a closeout opportunity on the line, they wanted to embody Bryant, who won his fifth and final championship with the Lakers in 2010. 

The Lakers are 4-0 in those jerseys this postseason. 

"It means something," James said. "Something more than just a uniform. It represents an individual who gave the franchise 20 years of his blood, sweat and tears and his dedication to his craft, both on and off the floor, to make that franchise be proud of him and, hopefully, vice versa."

Bryant forever changed the fabric of Los Angeles, as continually shown by the countless murals around the city, the tattoos on peoples' bodies and the collective deep grief following his death. 

He earned it. Over and over again. 

And now James has a chance to become a part of Lakers lore.

It would be one of his greatest accomplishments yet.