OAKLAND, United States: LeBron James ensured his place among the NBA’s all-time legends by leading the Cleveland Cavaliers in the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history and has made a solid case for being the greatest player ever.
The 31-year-old forward scored 27 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and passed out 11 assists to power Cleveland’s 93-89 victory over defending champion Golden State in game seven of the NBA Finals.
With size, strength and speed that enable him to muscle his way to the hoop and finesse as a passer to make teammates a threat from anywhere on the court, James has made himself the dominant player of his era, reaching the NBA Finals six years in a row.
Michael Jordan pushed the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles in the 1990s with remarkable athletic skill and determination, setting the “best ever” standard for many fans over such icons as Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Boston Celtics 1960s big man Bill Russell won a record 11 NBA titles in an era of domination no team is likely to repeat, while Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal both excelled but often with help, sometimes from each other.
But James unleashed a magical comeback in the past week unseen in the NBA’s 70-year history.
No team had ever rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the best-of-seven NBA Finals until he lifted the Cavaliers to deliver the NBA’s greatest shocker, ending his city’s 52-year wait for a major sports champion.
James matched Johnson, O’Neal and Tim Duncan as three-time NBA Finals most valuable players. Only Jordan with six has more. Calling that group “the greatest to ever do it,” James was tearful about his place in the conversation with them.
“I’m going to be in awe,” he said. “It’s going to be like being at a Beyonce concert. I’m going to be like this,” he added, adopting a starstruck expression.
Having unleashed back-to-back 41-point performances at the Warriors to lift the Cavaliers from a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series, James delivered perhaps the greatest clutch effort in NBA Finals history, joining Jerry West and James Worthy with the only game seven “triple doubles” in NBA Finals history.
“You put everything into the game. The game always gives back to people that are true to the game,” James said. “I know the history of the game and I was just confident and calm.”
The Cavaliers ousted an ultimate foe that won a record 73 regular-season games and boasted the NBA’s top scorer and two-time most valuable player in Stephen Curry.
James was an unprecedented leader in every major finals statistical area, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocked shots a game.
LeBron greeted by 20,000
James touched off jubilation that continued on Monday when he and the team landed at the Cleveland airport, displaying the championship trophy to more than 20,000 wellwishers. The party is set to continue Wednesday with a victory parade for the ages.
Crying tears of joy in the moments after the title was decided revived memories of Jordan’s tearful finish of the 1996 final. Both came on Father’s Day and for Jordan it was the first title since the 1993 death of his dad.
Comparisons with Jordan are apt as he and James may be the central players in the “greatest ever” argument for their versatility and success. Both made spectacular dunks and stunning shots in younger days before learning to trust teammates as they got older, spreading the ball among talented role players to make their teams even more dangerous.
There’s a statue of Jordan outside the Bulls’ arena and Jim Brown, the star rusher who led the 1964 NFL title run of the Cleveland Browns, says James needs one in front of the Cavaliers’ arena as well.
While James was only seconds away from becoming the first NBA most valuable player to lose five finals, he instead improved to 3-4 in the championship series, having gone 2-2 during four seasons with the Miami Heat.
Naysayers not his business
James had the last laugh on naysayers who nagged him all along his quest, posting an Instagram statement Monday beside a photo of him holding the trophy.
“They said u lost a step, wasn’t explosive as once was, the best days was in the rear view, questioned your drive, your leadership, your commitment, you don’t have killer instinct, going back home is the worst mistake in your career, he got the coach fired, players traded, won’t work between him and Kyrie (Irving), Him and Kev (Kevin Love) won’t work, love your teammates to much, there’s no way he can deliver a championship in his hometown, etc etc etc.. But guess what THATS NONE OF MY BUSINESS Hahahaha!!! Yes sir,” he posted.