NBA Finals 2016: Coronation for King James, Salvation for Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron Raymone James. Engrave that name into the history books of the NBA. The man who many thought was part of a Cinderella story was forced to earn his stripes. And in winning his third NBA title, ended a 52-year professional title drought for the city of Cleveland and in doing so also earned nearly every stripe needed to decorate a storied career.
The greatness of James does not rest with mere statistics. It is built on a narrative that has played out over a decade and a half of toiled labour, loaded with the emotional drama of a Hollywood potboiler.
As a child he dreamt of growing up into a local hero, being the pride and treasure of his own community. Into his 30s now, James played Hercules for the Cavaliers, carrying the aspirations of his team and town on his broad shoulders.
James has lived the dreams that defined him as a child. He will need a Superman suit before he reaches Cleveland to revel in the flood of celebrations that will wash over the city over the next few days.
Ever since starting his journey as the first pick in the 2003 NBA draft, James was earmarked for greatness. But the courtship took far longer than anticipated, even by the measure of the most diehard of James’ fans.
James was only 22 when he helped the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, the first of his career. But neither James nor his team possessed the experience needed to put it past the San Antonio Spurs, who coasted to victory in just four games.
By then, though, the media was already on his trail and short on patience. Name-calling turned into a favourite pastime,with several experts resorting to jibes at James and his ability to navigate his career to the promised land.
After eight years in Ohio, James finally made an emotionally painful decision. He was running against the clock and needed to contend for top honours, so he took his talents to south coast, to Miami Heat.
Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosch joined on the ride, but the Finals in 2011, where they lost to the Dallas Mavericks only served to deepen the void for James. The resilient James learned valuable lessons from a stinging 2-4 defeat at the hands of a Dirk Nowitzki inspired Mavericks.
They came in handy in the subsequent years,when James finally managed to fill his resume with a couple of NBA titles. A successful title defense may have been enough for most players to go home happy, but for James, the pedestal for judgment was always set high.
That same pedestal came back to sting him when James finally left Heat to return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, after suffering a 1-4 defeat to Spurs in his fourth straight Finals. For many it felt as if he was moving back empty handed.
“I see myself as a mentor now and I 'm excited to lead some of these talented young guys,” wrote LeBron in an emotionally charged letter to his fans. “I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate TristanThompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao,one of my favorite teammates.”
“I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go,” added James as he articulated the magnitude of his journey.
As he gets on board a jet to fly back toOhio, James can rest easy knowing that he has delivered on his vision. The title is a nice bonus, but more importantly, he will know that he is bringing the fruits of hope to a parched city.
The agony of last year’s 2-4 defeat to the same team must have rankled James and his team over several sleepless nights since then. The absence of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, crippled the team.
Since then the Warriors have grown in stature turning into the greatest team ever in regular season basketball. The odds were just stacking up against the Cavs. The Warriors had won 73 of 82 games entering the Finals, which they did by overturning a 1-3 deficit to Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Warriors were the team with the record and reputation as they set out to defend their title. Soon as the Warriors ran away to a 3-1 lead, the Cavs were reminded that no team in NBA history had ever overcome such a deficit in the Finals.
Yet, James remained steadfast in his belief. In the days to come, there will be several stories chronicling the Cavaliers’ resuscitation from near death. Not only did they win three big games on the run, they also subjected the Warriors to just their fifth defeat of the season inside the fortress-like Oracle Arena.
It is a story of remarkable courage and determination in the face of adversity. James inspired his team against nearly insurmountable odds, grabbing the treasured trophy even while hanging by a thread from the unrelenting jaws of defeat.
It is perhaps the gravity of this realization that brought James down to his knees soon as the buzzer went off in Oakland, with the Cavaliers leading Golden State Warriors by four points, 93-89.
James trails Michael Jordan by three in the count for titles and Finals MVP awards. But the manner of this victory and the journey that led to it all is an accomplishment without a parallel in the history of basketball.
As James arrived on the scene as a precocious teenager, greatness it seemed was a given. But his story of labored love proves once again that greatness needs to be earned against overwhelming odds for it to have meaning and value.