In all of NBA history, no player has been discussed, dissected, put down or propped back up more than LeBron James. Christened as the next Jordan before graduating Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s High School, as the Chosen One to lead Cleveland out of its never-ending misery before he was allowed to legally drink, LeBron James has, impossibly, lived up to expectation
His career has been a bumpy road, but after June 19, 2016 and a Game 7 to finish off a redemption arc that would make Jaime Lannister blush, LeBron James has finally, mercifully stepped above the noise and emerged as one of the titans in the history of professional basketball. Of course, we already knew that LeBron was one of the greatest. We saw it in 2007, when he singlehandedly carried the Cavaliers to the Finals with 48 points in a double overtime thriller in the Conference Finals against Detroit. We saw it in 2012, when he stepped onto the parquet floor in Boston and singlehandedly murdered the crowd, scoring 45 points and leading the Heat to the Finals and we saw it again in the 2012 and 2013 Finals, where he won two Finals MVPs and two championship rings.
Despite that, doubt lingered and the noise continued. The Decision lingered in the minds of many, even after The Return. To some, it was impossible to forgive and forget the 2011 Finals, when LeBron pulled off David Blaine’s disappearing act in the 4th quarter of multiple games. While a lot of the hate seemed to be grasping at straws, that doubt lingered for everyone. We wondered whether or not LeBron was a good teammate, whether or not he had David Blatt fired so that he could hire his buddy Ty Lue to run things, whether or not his real motive for coming back to Cleveland was so he run the franchise himself and whether or not his prime was past him. Through four games of the Finals, we were vindicated. LeBron wasn’t quite as overpowering as he had been before, his meddling in the front office was a disaster and he would likely orchestrate a breakup of this Cavs team by trading Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Or he would save them the trouble and leave himself. The Finals were merely a victory lap for the Warriors.
Then, a switch flipped within LeBron James and we got what we had wanted since christening him and deciding that he would be the one to get Cleveland back to the Promised Land. He pulled off the best three game run in NBA history, both by an individual and a team.
It culminated in a Game 7 for the ages and a majestic, soaring block that didn’t even seem human. The Warriors live off the idea that the ball is faster than the players, but in this case it wasn’t. LeBron James traversing half of the Oracle Arena floor in under two seconds to deny Andre Iguodala at the rim and keep the game tied at 89 was the moment Cleveland fans have been waiting for since December 27, 1964. Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer a little less than a minute later ended a 52-year waiting period for good. Cleveland waited, on edge for the Other Shoe to drop; only it never did. Kevin Love played some of the best defense of his life to force a miss and stop the inevitable when switched onto Curry the next play and James sank a crucial free throw after missing the first with what looked to be a hurt wrist. Then the buzzer sounded and Cleveland held a trophy in its grasp for the first time since a cold December day a few months after the Gulf of Tonkin. At the end of it all, LeBron James led the series in points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, earning a unanimous Finals MVP to match Stephen Curry’s unanimous regular season MVP.
Finally, after 13 years of endless noise and impossible expectation, LeBron James lived up to it and silenced the masses.
All stats are from basketball-reference.com or NBA.com unless otherwise noted