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LeBron James, Lance Stephenson

LeBron James says he has no rivals.

Sorry, but one man cannot be labeled "The Chosen One" as a teenager, jump to the NBA from high school, play 14 seasons, win three titles, announce his free agency destination on a TV special, announce another free agency destination in a first-person article and sign a $1 billion contract with a sponsor and without creating some enemies along the way. During his career, LeBron James has had plenty of rivals, some friendly and some legitimately hostile.

We narrowed the list down to 23 people, all of whom are NBA personnel (players, coaches, executives), so no, Skip Bayless and Dave Portnoy did not make the list. This must also be a two-way rivalry, so no Stanley Johnson for saying he was in LeBron's head after a first-round Game 2. James does not have time for such petty rivalries. Longevity was also valued. So no, J.J. Barea does not earn a spot for two nights in June, although that sounds like a great documentary title.

Thanks to all Twitter users who helped answer this tweet to make sure we did not leave anyone glaring off the list.

A great answer who did not make the cut is Lenny Cooke, the highly touted early 2000s high school recruit, who attempted to jump to the NBA out of high school in 2002, went undrafted and never made an NBA roster. Cooke and James were mega-recruits at the same time, and as legend has it, Cooke came to ABCD Camp, a gathering for elite high school prospects, in 2001 as the defending MVP. He beat Carmelo Anthony's group at the camp and was set to battle James' squad. James proceeded to crush Cooke's team and take over the throne as top high school recruit.

"He beat Lenny on his own tuft," former Nike executive and ABCD founder Sonny Vaccaro recalls. "I mean, you can say it was one shot, one game, but in a way, Lenny never recovered."

The NBA has thrown its fair share of Lenny Cookes at LeBron James. And for the most part, he has fended off his rivals. These are the 23 who have challenged James and at least made a storyline out of it.

23. Kyle Lowry And DeMar DeRozan (2015-2017, Peak 2015-2017)

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images Kyle Lowry And DeMar DeRozan

For a brief moment, the Raptors looked like they may be a formidable Eastern Conference rival to the Cavs. Down 0-2 in last year's Eastern Conference Finals, Toronto shocked Cleveland with two home wins, behind 32 points from DeRozan in Game 3 and 35 points from Lowry in Game 4. However, the Cavs woke up for 116-78 and 113-87 wins in Games 5 and 6. In this year's Eastern Conference semifinals, the Cavs swept the Raptors and James averaged 36.0 points in the series. Lowry didn't even make it to Game 4. No matter how many "Drake Nights" the Raptors schedule with the Cavs, Lowry and DeRozan are not quite ready for The King. For that reason, the Raptors could break up their roster this offseason. Know yourself, know your worth.

22. Ricky Davis (2003-2010, Peak 2003)

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images Ricky Davis (2003-2010, Peak 2003)

Davis and James only played a half season together, but Davis gave the world some timeless quotes.

"LeBron is gonna add to what we need and just make things a little bit easier," Davis said after James was drafted. Keep in mind Cleveland was coming off a 17-win season. And for some reason, Davis thought "The Chosen One" was just there to make things a little easier.

Oh, but the quotes get better. "I thought LeBron James was just going to be another addition to help me score," Davis also said. For what it's worth, Davis led that 17-win Cavs team with 20.6 points per game (and earned himself the nicknames Wrong-Way Ricky and Wrong-Rim Ricky). In a 2014 Bleacher Report interview, Davis revealed he chewed out a rookie James out after LeBron drove instead of passing to Davis.

Davis, who also feuded with then-head coach Paul Silas, didn't make it to Christmas with Jmes. On December 15, he was traded to the Celtics. He also suited up with the Timberwolves, Heat and Clippers before playing his final NBA game in 2010.

The Davis-James battle had an exhilarating two-month peak. And Wrong-Way Ricky will always have the distinction of being LeBron's first NBA rival.

21. Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver (2014-2016, Peak, 2014-2015)

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver

Mike Budenholzer's Hawks became Spurs East for two seasons, led by a four-headed, second-tier All-Star monster. Atlanta won seven more games than Cleveland in 2014-15, but the Cavs swept the Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals. In 2016, the Cavs swept the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Only Millsap remains on the Hawks and Korver is now a Cav.

Atlanta actually beat Cleveland three times in 2014-15. While this year's Celtics surprisingly passed the Cavs in the standings near the end of the season, the 2014-15 Hawks led the standings nearly wire-to-wire. Atlanta believed it had a team that could compete with the Cavs and LeBron just squashed them. It's no surprise management blew up the team after going 0-8 against Cleveland in two postseasons.

20. Erik Spoelstra (2010-2014, Peak 2010-2011)

Marc Serota/Getty Images Erik Spoelstra (2010-2014, Peak 2010-2011)

When James signed with the Heat, he finally felt like he had the teammates he desired, but not the coach. Spoelstra never played on an NBA court and worked his way into his job as a head coach after more than a decade in the Heat organization, starting as video coordinator. He is only 14 years older than James.

Season 1 was bumpy. One month into their tenure together, James shouldered Spoelstra during a timeout. Miami failed to finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference, as the Bulls earned home-court advantage for the playoffs. The Heat made the Finals, only to lose to the Mavericks in six games.

The media questioned whether Spoelstra would make it to Season 2. Pat Riley responded by giving Spoelstra a contract extension through 2013-14 (that's more support than David Blatt got in Cleveland, but stayed tuned for that). Spoelstra and James proceeded to win two straight titles and returned to the NBA Finals the year after that.

Although James and Spoelstra belong to different organizations now, it doesn't feel like there is any animosity between the two of them. Again, not to ruin the entry below, but unlike Blatt, Spoelstra stood up to James and had the support of his organization. James learned to work with Spoelstra and neither ended up being forced out. James' departure had little or nothing to do with his Miami head coach, as his return to Cleveland would prove.

19. Delonte West (2010-Present, Peak 2010-2011)

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images Delonte West

There is a lot to unpack here. If you want the long version, Deadspin has a good 2010 rundown of the alleged rumors West slept with James' mom, Gloria.

As the story goes, before Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, James supposedly discovered that West, who is a year and a half older than him (Gloria is 16 year older than LeBron), was engaged in some soft of relationship with Gloria. The Cavs were up 2-1 on the Celtics in the conference semifinals at the time. Cleveland lost the next three games, and although James had 35, 24 and 38 points in the first three games, he had 22, 15 and 27 in the latter three. West also greatly underperformed, scoring just eight points in the final three games (he averaged 8.8 points that season).

LeBron went to Miami in the offseason, and West went back to Boston, where he was drafted in 2004. The aftermath of the LeBron-Delonte conversation has had all sorts of ups and downs. On the court, West actually averaged 10.2 points for the Celtics in the 2011 conference semifinals, a series the Heat won. Off the court, in 2014, West told Vice Sports he didn't name his son Delonte West, Jr. because he didn't want other kids saying, "Didn't your daddy have sex with LeBron's mamma?" However, before the 2015 Finals, West revealed James was a crucial piece to helping West battle depression in 2009.

Then, last season, West started attacking James on social media. First, West posted a picture of James and said, "We not cool anymore." The following week, he posted a meme of himself and Dell Curry, asking, "Whos dad was better. Curry or lebrons." James does not talk about West for obvious reasons, and this rivalry never had legitimate basketball beef. It's just one of the weirdest off-court stories in basketball history. Does this saga affect LeBron on the court? No, of course not. But is it a story that never seems to go away? Pretty much.

18. Tayshaun Prince (2003-2013, Peak 2006-2007)

Dave Sandford/Getty Images Tayshaun Prince

The mid-2000s Pistons had incredible depth with Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Chris Webber, but it was commonly one man's responsibility to D-up division rival LeBron: Tayshaun Prince. In their first conference semifinals matchup in 2006, Prince chipped at James for the seven-game series. He actually exploited James when on offense too, averaging 18.0 points that series, nearly four points higher than his regular-season output. Prince and James battled again in the 2007 conference finals -- Prince's 44 minutes per game were a Pistons-high for the series -- but he could not contain James. James buried the Pistons (pretty much as a franchise), winning the series in six games. Prince has said James and the Cavs used to wear him down with incessant pick-and-rolls.

17. Mo Williams (2010-2015, Peak 2010-2011)

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images Mo Williams

When James left Cleveland, Williams, a fellow Cavs All-Star, was the most vocal critic of "The Decision." Williams tweeted: "The only thing, and I mean the only thing I disagree with is. ... If he knew somewhere else was the destination, he should have spared Cle." Williams was traded to the Clippers in February 2011, during the first season after James left Cleveland. He made stops at four other franchises before returning to the Cavs during James' second year back in Cleveland. He reconciled with James and the duo finally won a title together in 2016. Williams has not played an NBA game since Game 7 of last year's Finals.

16. David Blatt (2014-Present, Peak 2014-2016)

Harry How/Getty Images David Blatt (2014-Present, Peak 2014-2016)

Blatt was a great underdog story for a few weeks. He was signed as head coach of the Cavs on June 20, 2014, at age 55 after essentially 33 years playing and coaching overseas. Blatt was coming off a EuroLeague title and EuroLeague Coach of the Year honors with Maccabi Tel Aviv. He inherited a team with a 22-year-old Kyrie Irving, 23-year-old Tristan Thompson and 19-year-old Andrew Wiggins (the No. 1 overall pick in 2014). Blatt immediately went to the Las Vegas NBA Summer League to coach Wiggins and the Cavs' team. While he was gone, on July 11, James announced he was coming back to town and set the wheels in motion for the Cavs to trade Wiggins for Kevin Love.

Blatt and James never found the right footing. James was entering Season 12 when he returned to the Cavs. He'd gone through four coaches, the latest being Erik Spoelstra, another young head coach who had not played in the NBA. James was just barely too late to hand-select his own head coach. And James did not help make Blatt's job easy.

Cleveland started the 2014-15 season 1-3. The Cavs then won four straight before dropping a home game against the Nuggets. "We just didn't come with the proper mindset and with the energy level that we had the other night and have had the last several games," Blatt said after the loss.

James was told of this. "It's easy to say that after the fact," James responded.
Things didn't get better after that. James pushed Blatt away from a referee during the season. Of course, the Cavs made the NBA Finals that year, but lost in six games. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, during a Game 5 timeout, James refused a play drawn up by Blatt. "I witnessed from right behind the bench, shaking his head vociferously in protest after one play Blatt drew up in the third quarter of Game 5, amounting to the loudest nonverbal scolding you could imagine -- which forced Blatt, in front of his whole team, to wipe the board clean and draw up something else," Stein wrote.

That offseason, Brian Windhorst reported James was fine with Blatt coming back for another season because he "likes having Blatt to kick around."

Blatt didn't make it through January 2016. He was fired with the Cavs leading the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record. Blatt was replaced by assistant Tyronn Lue, who played 11 NBA seasons and won two titles. James had reportedly long preferred a coach with player experience.

The Blatt firing felt unjust. He'd made a Finals and was having a successful second season on paper. James was held responsible for the firing in the media. He put himself on the line.

But the gamble paid off. Lue and the Cavs hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June. Blatt was watching at home. Maybe it was a cold move to push Blatt out, but James looked like a genius pressing the right buttons to deliver a title to Cleveland.

This rivalry is not necessarily dead. Blatt is currently coaching Darüşşafaka S.K. in Turkey, but he could easily be hired by an up-and-coming, young team in the future, you know, like the one the Cavs were supposed to be three years ago. If Blatt does return, those games against Cleveland will be highlighted on his schedule. And no player is going to make him erase that.

15. Gilbert Arenas (2005-2008, Peak 2006)

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images Gilbert Arenas

Arenas was in his prime when he squared off against young LeBron in a legendary first-round playoff series in 2006. James and Arenas led their team in scoring all six games, averaging 35.7 and 34.0 points, respectively. In a 2-2 series, the Cavs and Wizards went to overtime in Cleveland, with James and Arenas exchanging shots and free throws in the final minutes. James finally made a game winner with 0.9 seconds left (Arenas missed a buzzer beater) to cap off a 45-point night. Arenas was left just short with 44 points of his own. The teams again went to overtime in Game 6, with James' Cavs again winning by one point on a 32-point night from the then-21-year-old king, who won his first playoff series.

The Wizards met the Cavs in three straight first-round series, but Arenas and Caron Butler were both injured in 2007, and Cleveland swept. Agent 0 only played 13 games in 2007-08, but he suited up for another first round against the Cavs. The hibachi stove never got cooking, as Arenas only played in four games, starting two, before shutting down with a knee injury. Arenas only played two games the following season and 121 games the rest of his career. That didn't stop him from posting on Instagram in July 2015 that James is not a No. 1 option for an NBA team. Of course, James went on to win an NBA Finals MVP that season.

14. Dan Gilbert (2010-2014, Peak 2010-2014)

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Dan Gilbert

Originally Gilbert was left off the list, but Twitter changed that. It was brought up that Gilbert did not just represent himself, but the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers' organization during James' Miami sabbatical. After James left for Miami, Gilbert wrote a letter to Cavs fans, calling LeBron's move "narcissistic" and vowed "NEVER" to "betray" fans. He gave a "PERSONAL GUARANTEE" that the Cavs would win a title before the Heat. Of course, the Heat made four straight NBA Finals and won two, while the Cavs missed the postseason all four years without James. Gilbert also spent the 2010 summer spreading the narrative that James had "given up" in the 2010 conference semifinals against the Celtics. The Cavs were not good enough to compete with Miami, but every time James came to town during his time with the Heat, the mood was icy.

James went 13-1 against his former team while in South Beach. Gilbert's fighting words never fazed him on the court. But there was a certain psychological toll it took on James. When James decided to come back to the Cavs in 2014, Gilbert revealed he regretted the letter, while James admitted he regretted the spectacle of "The Decision." Gilbert and James became partners again, but for a brief time, they were two of the biggest personal enemies in the NBA. Or, at least that's probably how Gilbert felt.

13. Stephen Curry (2015-present, Peak 2015-present)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Stephen Curry

This rivalry really came out of nowhere, but after Curry won his first MVP in 2014-15, the 2015 NBA Finals became Steph vs. Bron. The media latched on to the Akron storyline -- they were born at the same hospital a little more than three years apart. Curry won Round 1 in 2015, although he was not even the MVP of the series (Andre Iguodala was) and James took Round 2 in 2016 (and he did win the Finals MVP). With Durant in the mix, and with Green's history, Curry does not have to carry the Warriors' side of the rivalry. At least we have this photo.

LeBron vs. Steph was supposed to be about two heavyweights going back and forth, but frankly, Curry has not risen to the occasion in the NBA Finals. Besides, Curry vs. Irving is the more intriguing rivalry, especially with Durant now with the Warriors to match with James.

12. Dirk Nowitzki (2011-present, Peak 2011)

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images Dirk Nowitzki

It was only one series, but James will never be able to get revenge for Nowitzki's 2011 NBA Finals domination. In James' first season in Miami, The King was ready to validate his decision with his first NBA title. The Heat went up 2-1 in the series and led by four points through three quarters of Game 4. But Nowitzki scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, as the Mavericks won by three. James was held to just eight points in the game. Dirk and the Mavs put their foot on the gas and won Game 5, 112-103, and Game 6, 105-95, to shock the Heat. Nowitzki finished with 26.0 points and 9.7 rebounds per game en route to his only NBA championship. James was actually the Heat's third-leading scorer of the series, with his 17.8 points per game behind Wade and Bosh.

This rivalry was short-lived, but in their one meaningful meeting, Dirk took the W, and that will always be a bookmarked page in the NBA record books.

11. Draymond Green (2015-present, Peak 2016-present)

Jason Miller/Getty Images Draymond Green

In Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Green and James got tangled above the three-point line and James stepped over Green in the final minutes of a Warriors victory. The two jostled and needed to be separated. The Warriors went up 3-1 in the series but lost Green to suspension for Game 5. With Green at the A's game across the street, the Cavs beat the Warriors, 112-97 in Game 5, and then won Game 6, 115-101. Back in Oakland for Game 7, Green put together a spirited 32-point, 15-rebound, nine-assist night, but James' 27 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds led the Cavs to the title.

Green has said that he and James are friends and their beef is on the court, but not off the court. Green calls them "business partners," as Green has a podcast on James' Uninterrputed network. But the two had another moment this regular season when they collided and Green claimed James took a dive. Green has also said he wants to "destroy Cleveland" if the Warriors play the Cavs in the Finals.

Well, they are playing in the Finals. So expect Green to go at James hard, but not too hard that he'll lose his podcast.

10. DeShawn Stevenson (2007-2011, Peak 2008)

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images DeShawn Stevenson

During the mid-2000s Cavs-Wizards rivalry, Stevenson took on the role as Washington's designated trash talker. The mediocre swingman was constantly slotted to guard James during 2007 and 2008 first-round playoff series. The feud was lit on fire by a 2008 regular-season game. Stevenson was locked on The King when James missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer with the Wizards up two points. "He's overrated," Stevenson said after the game. "And you can say I said that." Remember, this was before any juicy quote was slapped right on to Twitter.

When the Cavs and Wizards linked up that postseason, Stevenson doubled down on his smack talk. "If you look at the games and what's going on, I know when I go to sleep, I know we have to play LeBron James," Stevenson said. "When I go to sleep and know we have to play the Lakers, I know it's going to be a long night. It's the difference between the Kobes and LeBrons. Not saying he will never get there, but that's what I'm saying."

James said he wouldn't respond to Stevenson because that'd be like "Jay Z saying something bad about Soulja Boy." Soulja Boy then came to Game 3 in Washington in a Stevenson jersey. It didn't help. James led both teams in scoring every game that series, averaging 29.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists, as the Cavs won in six games.

But the rivalry did not end there. Stevenson eventually landed in Dallas, while James went to Miami. When James lined up for Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Finals, Stevenson was right across from him, ready to D-up. Although James was shut down for much of the series, Stevenson is not the man who should take credit. Stevenson was actually relieved of his duties as a starter during the series and Shawn Marion saw more time on James. James has won three championships since, and Stevenson has not played in the NBA since 2013, but he did have that one Finals series win over James."

Two more points about Stevenson: 1) Rumor has it, James had Jay Z tape a Stevenson diss remix for a party hosted by James. 2) Never forget Stevenson had an ATM installed in his home while he played for the Nets.

9. Kevin Durant (2009-present, Peak 2011-present)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Kevin Durant

Like James' rivalry with Bryant, this feels like it missed its high potential, but unlike with Kobe, the KD rivalry can still experience a second wind. In 2011-12, James edged Durant for the MVP, while Durant won his third straight scoring title at age 23. The Thunder reached the Finals that season and took Game 1 against the Heat in Oklahoma City behind 36 points from Durant. James and Durant both went for 32 in Game 2, and Miami won 100-96. Durant led both teams with 30.6 point in the series, but James (28.6) had enough to lead the Heat to a five-game series win for his first NBA title. Durant flirted with two more Finals rematches, but fell short in the Western Conference Finals in 2014 and 2016.

Durant's massive scoring continued after the 2012 NBA Finals and in 2013-14, he won his first MVP Award. Among active players, Durant is the scoring leader at 27.2, just ahead of James' 27.1 ppg, prompting "Is Kevin Durant better than LeBron James?" storylines for the past half decade.

This year, Durant will finally get a rematch with James. In a week or two, Durant can easily shoot up this list.

8. Dwight Howard (2007-2012, Peak 2008-2011)

Jeff Haynes-Pool/Getty Images Dwight Howard

It feels so long since this was a legitimate rivalry. The Cavs were supposed to be the biggest challenger to the Big Three Celtics, but the Magic played spoiler. After Orlando disposed of the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics in seven games in the 2009 conference semifinals, the Magic crushed dreams of a LeBron-Kobe Finals. James scored 49 points in Game 1 of the conference finals, but 30 points and 13 rebounds from Howard lifted the Magic to a 107-106 victory. James hit a wild, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win Game 2, but Howard and the Magic responded with Game 3 and 4 victories in Orlando. In Game 4, the Magic won 116-114 with Howard scoring 10 of his 27 points in overtime. The Cavs won Game 5, but Howard put up 40 points and 14 rebounds in Game 6 to send the Magic to the NBA Finals.

The Magic actually returned to the conference finals the following season against the Celtics, who dispatched James in the conference semifinals. Howard and Orlando remained relevant for another two seasons (Howard was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, 2010 and 2011) with James in the Southeast Division as a member of the Heat. The Magic and Heat actually split the series 4-4 in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, but Orlando traded Howard to the Lakers in the 2012 offseason, and he has not been in a conversation with James for a half decade now.

7. Derrick Rose And Joakim Noah (2009-present, Peak 2010-2015)

Jason Miller/Getty Images Derrick Rose And Joakim Noah

The Bulls made the playoffs by one game in 2010, setting up a date with the first-place Cavaliers. With Cleveland heavily favored, Noah, who jawed with James earlier that season, took it upon himself to take every mental edge he could find. After a Cavaliers Game 1 win, Noah famously said, "You think Cleveland's cool? I never heard anybody say I'm going to Cleveland on vacation. What's so good about Cleveland?" Chicago only won one game of the series, Game 3 at United Center, thanks in part to Noah agitating James. Rose, in just his second season, averaged 26.8 points and 7.2 assists for the series.

When James arrived in Miami that offseason, he was supposed to create a spectacle never seen in NBA history. But Rose stole the show that first season, winning the MVP and leading the Bulls to the best record in the Eastern Conference. In Game 1 of the conference finals, the Bulls held James to 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Meanwhile, Rose put up 28 points and Chicago won 103-82 at home. James adjusted to the stingy Bulls, and although the Heat did not score more than 101 points in a game for the series, Miami won the next four to reach the NBA Finals.

Unfortunately, much of this rivalry became a "what could have been." The Bulls again had a better record than the Heat in 2011-12, but Rose tore his ACL in Game 1 of a first-round matchup with the Sixers. In the 2013 playoffs, with Rose healthy but refusing to suit up, a feisty Bulls team reached the conference semifinals behind Noah, who made the All-NBA First Team and win NBA Defensive Player of the Year the following season). Chicago stole Game 1 in Miami, and in Game 2, Noah bear-hugged James.The Heat still won in five again. Round 3 of James vs. Chicago came in 2015, when a reloaded Bulls met the Cavs in the conference semifinals. Chicago went into Cleveland and took Game 1, 99-92, behind a 25-point effort from Rose (the Bulls own James in Game 1s). In Game 3, Noah and James exchanged words, with Noah, appearing to say, "F*** you, you're still a b****." That same game, Rose banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put Chicago ahead 2-1 in the series. James came back with a buzzer beater of his own to win Game 4, and the Cavs closed out the series in six games.

Could Noah and Rose have gotten their own entires in this article? Sure. But they always seemed like a duo coming at LeBron. Noah was the enforcer and Rose was the scorer. Rose went head-to-head with James in the box score, while Noah physically feuded with James. Together, they were a strong enemy, but not strong enough to be at the top of the list. Other than a couple regular seasons and playoff Game 1s, the Bulls never beat LeBron.

(James did not have any memorable moments against the Rose-Noah Knicks superteam of 2016-17.)

6. Paul George (2012-present, Peak 2012-2014)

Andy Lyons/Getty Images Paul George

For two seasons, George was the greatest in-conference rival James ever had. George was not ready for James in the 2012 conference semifinals, when he averaged 10.0 points in the series, playing as the Pacers' fifth option behind David West, Danny Granger, George Hill and Roy Hibbert. But in 2012-13, George emerged as an NBA superstar and took the Pacers to their first conference finals since 2004. James hit a buzzer beater in Game 1, driving by George, for a 103-102 Heat victory, but Pacers pushed the Heat to seven games. George averaged 19.4 points for the series, but James held him to seven in Game 7 while scoring 32.

George came back in 2013-14 on a mission. He averaged 21.7 points on the season, as the Pacers actually beat the Heat for the East's best record. The Pacers used that home court to their advantage in Game 1 of the conference finals, as George went for a team-high 24 points in a 107-96 Indiana win. The Heat took Games 2 and 3 (James and Wade combined to score the Heat's final 20 points in Game 2), and James and George dueled in Game 4 with James scoring a Heat-high 32 and George a Pacers-high 23. In Game 5, while Stephenson shut James down for seven points, George had his trademark moment, scoring 37 points -- 21 in the fourth quarter -- in a 93-90 Pacers win to keep the series alive. Back in Miami, George kept the momentum going with a game-high 29 points in Game 6, but his team couldn't match the effort. James and Bosh scored 25 each in a 117-92 Heat annihilation.

Unfortunately, George then suffered a compound fracture to both bones in his lower right leg during Team USA training camp during the 2014 offseason. George came back as a reserve late in the 2014-15 season, but the Pacers missed the playoffs. Although George has since returned to full health, and he averaged more points in both 2015-16 and 2016-17 than any season before his injury, the Pacers made a handful of rebuilding moves the past two seasons. In this year's first round, James led his team to a four-game sweep. George showed glimpses of the old rivalry, scoring 29 points in Game 1 and actually gave the Pacers a chance to win at the end, but a C.J. Miles miss at the buzzer gave the Cavs a 109-108 victory. George had 32- and 36-point efforts in Games 2 and 3, but the Pacers were overmatched as a team. James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists for the series.

George is still just 27 and could have a new home very soon. But for the time being, despite incredible glimpses of hope from George, James owns the rivalry, never losing a playoff series.

5. Kobe Bryant (2003-2016, Peak 2007-2010)

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Kobe Bryant

This rivalry had the potential to be so much more. From 2007-2010, Kobe was figuring out how to win without Shaq, and LeBron was entering his prime (P.S. LeBron is still in his prime), fueling "best player" debate. Bryant won an MVP in 2007-08 and James did it the next two seasons. But Bryant also made all three NBA Finals during that time, and James bowed out in the conference semifinals twice and conference finals once. Since 2007, either James or Bryant has been in the NBA Finals, but never did they meet in the same championship. This could be a blessing in disguise because if they did play each other even once, NBA critics would magnify those few games as the main James-Bryant comparison forever.

"I didn't hold up my end of the bargain in 2009 for the fans, for us, to meet in the Finals," James said last season, during Bryant's retirement tour.

For what it's worth, LeBron and Kobe played 22 times in their career, with James winning 16. (Kobe won three of the first four). James averaged 28.2 points and Kobe 24.6 in those games.

4. Lance Stephenson (2013-present, Peak 2013-2014)

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images Lance Stephenson

"The Blow" is one of the greatest moments in NBA history, but this rivalry has a lot more wind than that. Stephenson broke out in the 2012-13 postseason, the second of three straight postseasons the Pacers and Heat met (he only averaged 3.6 minutes per game in the 2012 series, but he still managed to raise tensions by making a choking gesture at James). Stephenson averaged 29.2 minutes in the 2013 season, but 37.7 minutes in the Eastern Conference Finals, mostly locked on James. In Game 4, Stephenson and James were both fined for flopping. Also in that game, James complained to referee Joey Crawford after Stephenson lined up for a free throw and just faced James to talk trash.

In 2014, the rivalry reached another level. Stephenson took a memorable flop while guarding James in Game 2 and proceeded to lie on the court like he had gone to sleep. In Game 5, Stephenson set the internet on fire by blowing in James' ear, but more importantly, he held LeBron to just seven points, still his career low in a playoff game. Stephenson topped off the effort with another massive flop as James walked past him. In Game 6, with all eyes on the matchup, Stephenson put his hand on James' mouth and even stood over the four-time MVP.

Stephenson's antics earned him a three-year, $27 million contract with the Hornets, but he bounced around with the Clippers, Grizzlies, Pelicans and Timberwolves during that time. Stephenson's final stop was a return to Indiana, and a date with the Cavs in the first round of the postseason. Stephenson brought a spirited effort to the series -- his 16.0 points per game were the Pacers' third-highest total -- but the Cavs swept the series and James made Stephenson look silly.

This rivalry was totally generated by Stephenson, but he backed it up. No player had a more high-profile defender-to-superstar relationship with James than Stephenson had for two seasons. He even over-performed on offense during those battles. While James did rise to the occasion many times, he struggled in other instances. No one has gotten into James' head quite like Lance.

3. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs (2007-Present, Peak 2013-2014)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Gregg Popovich And The San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are too Spurs to make one player James' San Antonio rival. In 2007, James reached his first Finals with the Cavs and got ran out of the gym by the Spurs. In a four-game sweep, James averaged 22.0 points while Tony Parker put up 24.5 . Tim Duncan added 18.3 and Manu Ginobili 17.8. When James again faced off with the Spurs in 2013, it was Duncan who led the Spurs 18.9 and newcomers Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green gave the Heat fits. Of course, James missed a shot to tie in Game 6 and if it were not for Chris Bosh's rebound and Ray Allen's 3-pointer, LeBron would not have won his second NBA Finals MVP and won the series, so for the most part, the Spurs contained James for six games. With new life, James put up a series-high 37 points in the Game 7 win.

The next season, Leonard burst on to the scene to average 17.8 points and win the Finals MVP in a five-game Spurs' series win. James averaged 28.2 points, but just 4.0 assists, as Wade averaged only 15.2 points.

James' battles with the Spurs came after Duncan's prime, but before Leonard became a star, while Parker, Ginobili and Green also played a part. Interestingly enough, multiple Twitter users proposed Boris Diaw as a James rival. This is all indicative of how Popovich's system, the communal attack, stunted James, who went 1-2 (nearly 0-3) in NBA Finals against San Antonio. There's still time for Popovich to rev up the engine again and set up another NBA Finals date with The King.

2. Carmelo Anthony (2003-present, Peak 2003-2014)

Getty Images Carmelo Anthony

Anthony is James' most fascinating regular-season rival. After winning a Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award, Anthony was the first college player selected in the 2003 draft, going to the Nuggets at No. 3 after James and Darko Milicic. James and Anthony became good friends during the draft process (and in high school in 2002, Melo's Oak Hill team beat James' St. Vincent-St. Mary team, 72-66, with James scoring 36 points and Anthony 34), and they became two easy players to compare against each other. People forget James was not a clear Rookie of the Year, edging Melo, 508-430 in total voting points (78-40 in first-place votes). Anthony actually averaged more points and more rebounds than James in fewer minutes, while leading the Nuggets to a playoff appearance (the Cavs missed the postseason by a game).

Playing in different conferences during their early careers, Anthony and James became must-see TV when matched up against each other. James and Anthony split 12 Nuggets-Cavs games. James scored 43 and Anthony scored 40 in a 118-116 Nuggets overtime win in February 2010.

For a hot second, the LeBron-Melo Heat-Knicks rivalry had some sizzle, but that faded fast. In a 2012 first-round series, Melo delivered the Knicks their first playoff victory since 2001 with a 41-point performance in Game 4, but the Cavs won in five games. Including playoffs, James now holds a 22-13 series lead.

LeBron vs. Melo has always felt like a natural rivalry. They play the same position, came into the league at the same time and are usually matched up against one another. Simply put, LeBron was just a better player, although peak Melo may have been a better scorer. There's still a chance we see these members of the Banana Boat team up before their careers are over.

1. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo (2007-2012, Peak 2007-2012)

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce And Ray Allen

Paul Pierce is the easy answer here. James refuses to call any other player a rival, but he has said, "I think the closest would be Paul Pierce." That's a ringing endorsement for Pierce at the No. 1 spot here.

But here's the thing with Pierce: He wasn't a rival to LeBron before Danny Ainge created the Big Three and he never threatened James' dominance after The Big Three broke up. Pierce was only a rival to James when he had Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. On top of that, Rajon Rondo surprisingly rose to become a crucial piece of the rivalry, which had a relatively long run, 2007-2012.

In the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, the Celtics needed all their tricks to contain a 23-year-old LeBron James, who went for 26.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.4 rebounds with a supporting cast headlined by Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak. Cleveland pushed the series to seven games with James scoring 45 points in Game 7 in Boston. Pierce countered with 41 and the Celtics escaped their hardest test they would face that postseason (sorry, Kobe).

In 2010, the Cavs and Celtics again met in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but this time, with the Cavs holding home-court advantage. James opened the playoffs with a 35-point effort and a Cavs win. After losing Game 2, James put up 38 in Game 3 to take the advantage. The Cavs then broke down, losing the next three games. Boston blew out Cleveland, 120-88 in Game 5, and despite posting a 27-19-10 triple-double in a Game 6 loss, James shot 8-for-21 and was blamed for giving up on the series. Two months later, James was on his way to Miami.

James' fortune against the Celtics shifted in South Beach. In the 2011 conference semifinals, the Heat blew past the Celtics in five games, and Dwyane Wade actually led the series in scoring, averaging 30.2 points (James averaged 28.0). But James' memorable Celtics series came in 2012. With the Heat down 3-2 in the series, James delivered a 45-point (30 points in the second half), 15-rebound, trademark game in Boston to extend the series to seven games. James scored 31 points in Game 7 back in Miami, averaging 33.6 points for the series. This was also the series that Rondo established himself as the face of the James resistance in Boston, leading the Celtics with 20.9 points and 11.3 assists per game.

James did see a washed-up Pierce and Garnett again in the 2014 conference semifinals, while the duo played in Brooklyn, but teaming with Allen at that point, James won an easy series in five games.

In terms of Pierce vs. James, the two have played on the same floor in 39 regular-season games and 30 playoff games. Pierce led the regular-season tally, 21-18, but James won the playoff battle, 17-13 (13-12 without the Nets series). James averaged 29.3 points in the regular-season matchups and 29.1 in the postseason, while Pierce, who retired at the end of the Clippers' season this year, went for 20.2 in the regular season and 17.0 in the playoffs. That includes a one-point effort from Pierce (in 40 minutes) during an 85-82 Celtics win in February 2011.

Pierce was not the reason the Celtics were a rival to James. As the opposing small forward and first-option scorer, Pierce was natural to be cast in that role, but the truth is the Celtics were about a lot more than that. No story in James' career has such a beginning, middle and end. The Celtics were the powerhouse of veterans who knocked James around while he was young. He made adjustments (OK, he formed a superteam of his own) and beat the team that gave him so many issues. In fact, he beat the Celtics so bad, one of their stars ended up coming to play with James. Isiah Thomas overcame Bird's Celtics, Michael Jordan overcame Thomas' Pistons and LeBron James overcame the Pierce/Garnett/Allen/Rondo Celtics.

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