Climb too steep for LeBron, Cavaliers
Let’s get this out of the way right out of the chute.
LeBron James is not only the best basketball player on the Cavaliers’ roster, he is the best basketball player in the National Basketball Association’s Central Division, the Eastern Conference, the entire NBA, the United States of America, the northern hemisphere and the entire planet.
That he has literally, figuratively, spiritually and just about any other appropriate word that ends with ly dragged and willed the Cavaliers to the NBA finals again for the fourth season in a row – or as long as he has been back in Cleveland – is a remarkable achievement in and of itself.
If there is any question as to whether James is not the best athlete ever to play for a Cleveland professional sports team, and the city has had its share of terrific athletes,
I’d like to hear it.
Bob Feller and Jim Brown come immediately to mind with regard to the Indians and Browns. But that’s about it.
What LeBron has done since returning to the team that drafted him after a four-season hiatus in Miami, especially this season with a roster that is mediocre at best, is nothing sort of singularly outstanding, not to mention his eighth straight appearance in the league finals.
No one gave the Cavs a chance to get past the Boston Celtics in the conference finals and yet, here they are.
That said, let me be perfectly honest about this imperfect version of the Cavaliers. There is no way this one-man team will knock off arguably the most complete team in the NBA finals that begin Thursday night in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.
They overcame a terrible losing stretch with a veteran roster early in the season, a massive roster overhaul midway through the season and still emerged standing in early June. All because of you know who.
And when the well-balanced Warriors in the next couple of weeks repeat what they did to the Cavs in the finals last season, count on James’ critics bubbling to the surface. No matter what he does, no matter how he plays, there will be knuckleheads who will find reasons to criticize.
He hogs the ball too much. He turns over the ball too much. He needs to be better at the free-throw line. He needs to be better in clutch time. He’s plays too selfishly.
All that is nonsense, of course. Ignorant blather from those who will complain about anything.
But when you are carrying the weight of your teammates on your back for as many as 40-48 minutes a game for 100 games now, that can have a deleterious effect on the outcome of games.
To get to this point. one has to understand the reason the Cavaliers got here was because James willed his teammates to play at a level beyond their normal talents.
Unfortunately, his virtuoso performances in the playoffs won’t help in these finals. If the Cavs win one game at home (as they did last season), it should be considered a significant achievement. That they are overwhelming underdogs is not surprising.
That still will not – and should not – diminish the achievements James has contributed to the cause this season, which many veteran observers label the best of his remarkable 15-year career.
LeBron most likely will play elsewhere in the league next season, undoubtedly where he will be appreciated more than his home area. I say most likely because there is the remotest chance he chooses to end his career where it began.
Whatever he goes, his legacy as one of the greatest players ever in the NBA – arguably the greatest (the great Michael Jordan never went to eight straight finals) – will remain untarnished even though he will be just 3-6 in the finals after the Warriors win.
The young kid from Akron, born with a gift for playing the game of basketball on a plane reserved for the greats of the game, has never misused that gift and ultimately taken it to heights that may not be duplicated for a long, long time.