Since he was 16 years old, we’ve all known LeBron James would likely wind up as one of the greatest basketball players to ever set foot on an NBA court.
He finally had his moment.
LeBron James has won big games before, but never like this. He has won NBA titles before, but never like this. James won Game 7 of an NBA Finals before, but it wasn’t like this. He has been the best player in a huge series before, but no, it was never like this.
What James did over the past two-and-a-half weeks was simply remarkable. He took a team that lost the first two games of the NBA Finals by a combined 55 points, and somehow re-formed them into a unit that won four of the next five contests against the defending champions. With his Cavaliers down 3-1 in the series, James took the team on his shoulders and ripped off three straight improbable wins over a Warriors team that lost just nine regular season games. Until Sunday night, Golden State hadn’t lost three games in a row since November of 2013.
James had help, as Kyrie Irving rose up and became a formidable Robin to LeBron’s Batman, while role players like Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Kevin Love stepped up to battle with hustle and heart late in the series. But this was about LeBron James and confronting everyone who has ever doubted him.
James owned the 2016 NBA Finals in a way we haven’t seen in decades. He finished the seven-game series averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists and 42.0 minutes per game. He also threw in 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks just for fun. For the series, James led all players on both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He was everything we’ve ever wanted him to be, then went a few notches higher. While facing elimination in each of the final three games of the series, he reached down and found another gear:
|LeBron James Finally Had His Moment|
James finally became an NBA champion with the Heat, but naysayers claimed he had needed the help of two perennial All-Stars to do so. Some claimed he latched on to Dwyane Wade’s team and wasn’t the true leader. He also brought Chris Bosh along for the ride. James hadn’t done it by himself or done the work to create a championship culture and attitude from scratch. He hadn’t stood by himself and won with everything resting on his shoulders.
LeBron returned to Cleveland before the 2014-2015 season, and the expectation from everyone was clear: only a title would satisfy his fans and critics. Only a title for his hometown would satisfy the promise James showed 15 years ago.
The Cavs fell to the Warriors in six games during the 2015 NBA Finals, despite a herculean effort by LeBron. This year looked to be a repeat of that script, but The Forest City’s favorite son managed to flip that on its head.
James scored 41 points in both Games 5 and 6, but saved his best performance for the finale. Sunday night he posted just the third triple-double in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. LeBron finished the deciding game with 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, three blocks and two steals. He was the best player on both ends of the floor and it was clear early in the game that nothing was going to stop his dogged pursuit of his most meaningful title.
The Warriors were a game opponent, but in the end they wilted while LeBron soared. For 47 scintillating minutes, James lit up that floor and was ready to take on all comers. He owned the game and in doing so, he finally locked up his place among the greats.
With the biggest game of his life tied at 89 and just 1:51 remaining, James made what will stand the test of time as the play of his career. In doing so, he created a highlight that will live on forever.
Golden State’s Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry went down the floor on a two-on-one fast break with Cavs guard J.R. Smith harmlessly standing between them and a two-point lead. After receiving a pass from Curry, Iguodala rose up for what looked like an easy lay-in. He didn’t account for James.
LeBron came from out of nowhere and rejected the shot, which fell harmlessly into the waiting arms of Smith and the Cavs took possession.
The Warriors, a team with quite possibly the most potent offense in NBA history, never scored again.
A few minutes later, James stood at the free throw line with 10.6 seconds left in the game and his team up by three. He had a chance to seal the title that had eluded him and his city for so long. Moments earlier, Irving had driven the lane and flipped a pass back to LeBron, who rose up to throw down what would have undoubtedly been one of the greatest dunks in NBA history. But Draymond Green – who warred with James all series – committed a clean, hard foul that ensured the ball would never go in. As James fell to the ground he landed directly on his right wrist, and he writhed around in clear pain.
James eventually got up, and after a timeout needed to sink at least one of the two ensuing free throws to put the game away. Clearly still aching from his tumble, first attempt was nowhere near its intended target, as it thudded off the back of the rim.
James then received the ball for his second attempt. There he stood, staring down the barrel of history, with one final chance to clinch the game. All he needed to do was make an uncontested shot from 15 feet away and his team and city would finally have that long-sought championship. The hopes of millions rested on him and the wrist he had just landed on. It was fitting that as James stood on that free throw line with the weight of Cleveland, its fans and its entire sports history on his shoulders, he was utterly alone. James finally had a chance to prove all his doubters wrong and do it by himself.
This time, he made the shot.
He finally had his moment, one he had fought relentlessly to achieve. An agonizing chapter for James and his city finally had its conclusion.
When the final buzzer sounded, James immediately burst into tears. His long quest was finally over, his Holy Grail had been attained and his legacy was finally secured. From this day forward, no matter what anyone says about LeBron James, he’ll always be the man who finally brought Cleveland a title after 52 long years. This time, he did it by himself.
LeBron James and Cleveland may celebrate another championship some day, but it will never be like this.