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LeBron James has already saved Cleveland

LeBron James has already given Cleveland so much joy, no matter what happens in the NBA Finals. For that, he should be celebrated.

SB Nation's 2015 NBA Finals Guide

Nothing makes you appreciate winning more than losing. (Take it from a basketball fan familiar with the concept of losing.) Every team strives for a championship because it's the pinnacle of success. Every fan wants that parade. Every booster wants to be in the arena for the clinching win and in the streets for the party afterward.

But only one team can claim that level of success each season. If your team doesn't capture the crown, the next best thing is to be really good. Really good teams win a lot and wins are fun to watch and celebrate. Losses are not fun. While lots of smart fans understand that team-building often requires a franchise bottoming out, it's indisputable that it's better to root for a really good team that doesn't win a title than a really bad team that never had a chance. Every fan in the world would prefer 50, 55, 60 nights of glee over 50, 55, 60 nights of disappointment.

Cleveland must know this. Here are the past 15 years of regular season results for the Cavaliers.

The tale is well-known. LeBron arrived in the 2003 NBA Draft and the Cavaliers rapidly improved, hitting the 50-win level in just three seasons. LeBron left in 2010, and the Cavaliers went deep into the tank. LeBron returned for the 2014-15 season and the Cavaliers are back on top of the world. Over the past 15 years, the Cavaliers' best season without LeBron (2014) was less successful than their worst season with LeBron (2004, his rookie year).

The championship is the goal, but the regular season is long and full of terrors. No team in the NBA was worse than Cleveland over the past four seasons. The Cavaliers went 97-215 (.311) during that stretch. Even worse, the man that left them cold in the July night was busy making the Finals every season in Miami and winning two championships. My favorite team is No. 2 on that list of recent futility, and even I can't grasp how awful those last four years of basketball must have been for Cleveland. (We had heartbreak of a different sort in Sacramento.)

Just being in this place -- where a title is possible, where basketball lives beyond April, where you can bristle at underdog status instead of wallowing in irrelevance -- is a huge victory. Cleveland sports fans have tasted suffering of all flavors. LeBron's decision to return to Northeast Ohio changed everything immediately.

It's something we knew the moment it happened, but this is the proof. That Cleveland limped through the dread for four years and immediately climbed the ladder upon LeBron's return is impressive, but not surprising. This is why they partied in the streets when LeBron dropped "I'm Back" on that beautiful July Friday. This became inevitable. Not the Finals per se, but basketball relevance. Success. A return to form.

That LeBron actually carried this franchise back to the Finals immediately is proof he's already won. You now see the favorable comparisons to His Airness crop up, stories you saw only from cranks and attention beggars in Miami. The evidence of undeniable greatness is before us and only fools deny it now.

If he wins this title, the hyperbole will soar to the heavens. If he doesn't, well, that's fine, because look at what he accomplished with this mismatched, broken club. Look at what he brought back to Cleveland.

LeBron can't lose because he's already won. And thanks to LeBron's decision, Cleveland is winning, too.