Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots over Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the first half of Game 3 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Cleveland, Tuesday, June 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
LeBron James has been the transcendent face of the NBA since joining the league in 2003 and embarking on a 12-year career and six Finals appearances, including five in the last five years. Two stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and a four-year run with Miami earned James six Eastern Conference championships and four MVP awards.
Despite the accolades, the All-Star honors, the Finals appearances and a pair of championship titles, James’ career will always be evaluated by his performances during the last weeks in June. The current Finals series between Cleveland and Golden State is tied at 2-2, and James faces the prospect of entering the postseason with a 2-4 Finals record. James has had some stellar performances in the Finals, and even if the Cavs fall to the Warriors, this may be James’ best Finals appearance.
James has been the workhorse, and he’s been the role-player, but he’s never been in a position like the one he’s in now. For the Cavs to even be tied with the Warriors in this series is simply a testament to James’ greatness. Lacking key teammates and facing personal fatigue, James has averaged nearly a triple-double in each game of the series while playing approximately 46 minutes per contest. He’s been the scorer, the passer, the top defender, the cheerleader, the coach, the captain and the story of the Cavaliers’ title run.
The fact that James hasn’t collapsed on the court is a testament to his stamina and will. Cleveland’s playing with house money right now, given their injury-ravaged roster. The Cavaliers aren’t expected to win the series, but you can’t tell LeBron James that. Driven by his grit, the Cavaliers have been playing beyond their abilities and are only two wins away from the city’s first NBA title.
James’ current teammates include just one drafted player, Tristan Thompson, and a variety of undrafted players and journeymen. Their talent level means James is taking on more than perhaps any other superstar has in the history in the league. His four-year stretch in Miami groomed him for a starring role on a championship contender, and James has transferred his experience and title mentality to the remainder of his teammates. It’s paid off—the Cavaliers are in a tied Finals series just one year after they selected first in the 2014 NBA draft. Cleveland drafted Andrew Wiggins first overall, but shipped him to Minnesota in exchange for the currently-injured Kevin Love. Aside from a few minor acquisitions, the driving force in Cleveland’s revitalization has been James, just like it was in 2003.
Cleveland has the odds stacked against them; two of the series’ final three games would take place in Golden State. It would be a surprise if the Cavs found a way to win, but the city of Cleveland has to be proud with their performance and the maturity of James. Although the Cavaliers haven’t won anything, they can take assurance that they have a proven champion on their roster.