The Cleveland Cavaliers are NBA champions, executing one of the greatest comebacks in league history against the best regular season team ever. Down 3-1 in the series and looking like toast, LeBron James and the Cavaliers stormed back with a pair of masterful performances to get to Game 7. Once there, fighting in the belly of the 73-win beast, they brought it home in emphatic fashion, punctuated by a thunderous James block and an impossible Kyrie Irving three in the closing minutes.
LeBron never promised Cleveland a title. In fact, in his famous essay announcing his return to the Cavaliers, he explicitly did not promise a championship. Why? "I know how hard that is. We're not ready right now. No way." Of course, they got ready awful quick, flipping youth for Kevin Love and acquiring other veterans. It hasn't all worked out -- especially on the Love end of things -- but it's been enough to bring the Cavs from a team capable of winning three lotteries in four years to a team capable of knocking off a juggernaut on the biggest stage in sports.
This speaks to LeBron's power and greatness. He had the Cavs in the Finals the year he arrived. The tone around the team and the expectations changed immediately. James had loads of help, from Irving and Love to J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson. But his mere presence elevated the roster from the bottom to the top of the league from Day 1. No other player in the NBA can do this.
In a way, after his Miami sojourn, the Cavaliers' quest for glory became less about LeBron and his need to capture a championship to cement his status as one of the greatest players the game has seen. Remember Shaq's mantra during his brief stint in Cleveland: "win a ring for the King." The King got his rings down in South Beach.
This time, it was about doing it for Cleveland. And he did. The Heat years both sharpened the contours of LeBron's importance and shifted the focus of intrigue on whether the Cavaliers could win it all. Armed with two rings, LeBron no longer faced serious questions about his legacy from serious people. Failing in Cleveland this time around could not in a vacuum detract from his name, it could only empower it further.
And so it has.
This is justification for all the Cavaliers did to get here, from signing LeBron's favored players (hello James Jones) to trading a promising young prospect to roll the dice on Love, acquiring (and essentially discarding) Timofey Mozgov and Channing Frye, paying an incredible luxury tax bill, firing David Blatt. This result justifies every move we thought was a misstep, every decision that looked shortsighted. Of course the Cavs were shortsighted! They had on their roster the greatest player of his generation, approaching the end of his prime, poised to bring glory to the place he grew up. You'd be foolish to not be short-sighted in that situation.
It almost didn't happen. Giving the Golden State Warriors one opportunity to finish you off -- let alone three -- typically means death. Let's be clear: the Warriors were great. Golden State unraveled a bit in the Finals, from Draymond Green's unfortunate swipe to Stephen Curry's Game 6 implosion. A few lesser Warriors cracked, whether due to pressure, Cleveland's defense or randomness.
Remember that in his essay, LeBron noted how hard it is to win a title. The Warriors have one already, and came so close to No. 2. Coming just short doesn't make them failures and it doesn't erase their accomplishments. Just as silly as it was to degrade LeBron for failing to knock off Golden State a year ago, it's absurd to diminish the Warriors now for having no answer to LeBron's Herculean efforts.
Cleveland revels, the Bay Area reels and the rest of us sit back and appreciate how incredible basketball can be. Some finish to some season.
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