As ugly as this series has become, and as disappointed as they may be to see their King carry his team so far only to fall FLAT, Cavs fans at Quicken Loans Arena for Game 4 of the NBA Finals should be ready to show their appreciation.
After all, this will likely be their last chance.
James, now just one loss away from his highly-anticipated third foray into NBA free-agency, has given his city more of his blood, sweat and tears this season than in any of his previous 14 years as a professional, again playing more minutes than anyone in the league and even playing in more games than he ever has, and against more difficult odds than ever before not only won the Eastern Conference for the eighth straight year but also had his team in position to win Game 1 of the Finals on the road…
By now, we all know what happened. The King was set to secure his most unlikely victory of all, only to be let down in the biggest moment, on the biggest stage, by long-time running mate and serial bonehead JR Smith.
In fact, the 3.5 seconds that Smith spent dribbling out the clock after passing up a point blank putback in a tie game at the end of regulation in Game 1 didn’t just signal the end of the series for the Cavaliers, but also the end of LeBron’s time in Cleveland.
It is no secret that his own legacy is LeBron’s driving force. As his career is in its final act, everything about his remaining years will be carefully calculated re: how it fits into the King James narrative.
So far, everything has gone according to plan. He came to Cleveland out of Akron as the number one pick and was an instant success. He got better each year and took the Cavs to the Finals in 2007.
He went to Miami with the express purpose of winning some titles, and did so.
He then came back to Cleveland an NBA veteran, where they’d burned his jerseys in the street four years earlier, and with his newfound experience brought a title home, where they hadn’t had a parade since 1962.
He even changed back to #23, to make sure all the people who still had their jerseys would be happy.
So what’s left to accomplish?
Best player on earth? Check.
Hometown glory? Check.
How about winning the West?
The trendiest pick is that LeBron ends up on the L.A. Lakers, maybe alongside Paul George. This would allow James to silence any critics who suggest his eight straight Finals trips be taken with a grain of salt because of the weak Eastern Conference.
If the King took his talents Westward and reigned there, how much would his legacy expand?
And of course, there’s always…retirement?
Michael James, former NBA writer for The New York Daily News and founder of The Tribe Sports, suggests that fans be ready for the unthinkable:
“What would shock most people–what I think could happen that nobody else in the world is considering–LeBron retires,” James said via text.
Whatever he chooses to do, the second break-up with Cleveland will be much different than the first. The fans, feeling abandoned by James the first time around, will be grateful for the return and what came of it.
When he left the first time, jerseys were burned in effigy. When he leaves this time, they will let him go.
LeBron has always been able to surprise, and this summer may be more of the same. But even with some uncertainties, one thing is for sure.
No matter where he ends up, nobody in Cleveland will be burning his jerseys this time.