Return of the King: LeBron threatens Jordan's throne

LeBron scores his fourth career ring in his 10th Finals. At almost 36 years old, he continues on his way to the top of an NBA that is his once again.


LeBron James got out of bed early on July 8, 2010 knowing he was leaving. The decision was made after a night of dogs in which he could barely sleep and many weeks of personal deliberation that had not allowed him to choose his future until the last minute. On that day, his life would change forever, beginning first a fall into hell and then an eternally postponed redemption, when he found peace in the place he left to write one of the most incredible stories the NBA has ever witnessed in its long existence. . The narrative was never as important as after that announcement, which was a terrible image management broadcast on ESPN and organized by the LeBron environment and the commentator Jim Gray. There has never been such a great repercussion or a current so contrary to the march of a player of a team, of his team. The one that he had put on the map since his arrival in 2003 to the best league in the world and that he had raised to nothing less than his first Finals after one of the greatest exhibitions in the history of the playoffs. One that finished with 48 points, including the last 25 for the Cavaliers between the fourth quarter and the two overtimes of the fifth game of the East finals against the Pistons, in 2007, and that was the anticipated end of a series resolved in the sixth and with which a small franchise, with a tiny market, was placed only four victories away from the ring ... although the Spurs made sure that it did not get any (4-0) .

In Akron, no one remembered such a feat, not the two MVPs won in 2009 and 2010 or the social commitment that James had had with a city with which he had been linked since high school, when he covered the cover of Sports Illustrated and gave the I jump to the NBA without going through the University. Nor of the records of 66 and 62 victories, the best in the competition, that the team had achieved in the last two seasons. Some timidly remembered the words that Tim Duncan addressed to a King still without a crown after the 2007 elimination: "One day this League will be yours." Of course, it was useless for him to become the far owner of a franchise in which he had left a legacy that made him, at that point, the best player in the history of it, and endless unparalleled records that no one would take into account. For the fans of the NBA and especially the Cavs, the only thing that LeBron left in what had been his home for the entirety of his life was a string of broken promises and many negative feelings that took shape in a word that would haunt him on every visit to Cleveland in the following years: treason.

There was no way to appease the hostile opa that was to come. The program The Decision, pure history of North American television, attracted an average of almost 10 million people and the moment in which LeBron pronounced that criticized phrase of "taking my talent to South Beach" had 13.1 million viewers glued to the TV. Not even the decision to donate six million dollars to charitable causes, as if the star's environment already expected such a chain reaction, cushioned the blow. Since then, LeBron became the most hated player on the planet, something that lasted in a net and complete way for the next two seasons, until that 2012 ring that began to appease the spirits of the same human condition against which The King has fought for a decade. And even now, four rings and nine Finals later, there is an increasingly minority sector that continues to remember the farce of his decision and reproach him for all that horde of arguments that seemed to accompany him almost forever. The player who does not appear in important games, who looks like a robot or who only knows how to penetrate, then joined the idea that he has to go to super teams to win the ring or he needs stars to take the chestnuts out of the fire. All this has been repeated ad nauseam for ten years and has not gone down in history for NBA fans always determined, again as human beings, to remember the worst before the best and give added importance to mistakes ( if they were) and not to the hits. Something that happens, of course, in all levels of society, and almost without exception in any vital parameter.

The 2011 Finals were one of the greatest demonstrations of that inherent condition of the fans, with an overwhelmed joy for the failure of the fallen hero, even though he never unanimously became a hero but did count on the same for the animosity that was generated against him. Just 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists in six games, with a loss to the Mavs. In that series, LeBron played more than 43 minutes on average and barely attempted 15 shots a night, falling to an ignominious 8 points in the loss in Game 4. Dirk Nowitzki's dream ring (26 points per game in those Finals) was the prolongation of LeBron's agony, which clearly and resoundingly yielded the leading role to Dwayne Wade (26.5 + 7 + 5.2) and disappeared from the Map. Precisely Wade was tried to recruit for the Cavs before his departure, as did Chris Bosh, Trevor Ariza or Ray Allen. They all responded the same: they wanted to play with him, but not in Ohio. As if the franchise was in the wrong place and failure was inherent in his association with LeBron. 2010-11 was a season full of whistles on rival tracks, especially at his former home, which ensured a full house to boo what was his greatest reference. The leak that he had gone up to Pat Riley's office with Wade to ask him to step down and fire Erik Spoelstra did not improve his reputation, and the star himself learned to accept a refusal when the Heat boss elegantly fired him from his job. workplace with his partner

The way to the throne

If LeBron has achieved something beyond four rings, it is to fight against public opinion, that place where the battles that decide wars are won. Flipping that against everything has been nothing short of a miracle for a player who has gone from hated to loved, but still generates the first sentiment today in a way superior to what the second was projected ten years ago. With the move from Ohio to Florida, LeBron ushered in the era of empowered players, reaching his influence in the competition to heights that no other personalism has had and ensuring that those stars that were once mere merchandise for managers, are now capable to force transfers, get better contracts or even stop the League itself, something that they have threatened to do very clearly just a few weeks ago and with the racial struggle, which LeBron also leads, as background music and the main reason for that boycott that it threatened to become a cancellation and that ended up being a warning. It was not the only thing that LeBron started in 2010, as he also formed the first (and at the moment the only) super team that was originated solely and exclusively by the players. Once again, a sign of empowerment that Wade, Bosh and Akron organized, three free agents who came together in the same destiny to form one of the best squads, beard by beard, in NBA history. There were still some journalists who ventured to say that they would be able to finish the regular season with an 82-0 record. You know, nothing could be further from the truth.

The mental battle LeBron faced back then is unfairly underrated. With almost always impeccable behavior off the courts (and Riley's offices), the player did not have to face exclusively the fact of having become almost a genocide in the face of the outside, but to have to do it alone. His partner, Savannah, stayed in Akron with their children, something they decided by mutual agreement after observing the toxic environment caused by his departure. The desire to prevent them from sneaking into the house, transferring the children and making a dent in the family nucleus motivated a very thoughtful and, in the long run, correct decision. Both continue to share his life today (with some rumor of infidelity on his part, it must be said) and his first-born, Bronny, aspires to coincide in the NBA with his father, who seems to never want to retire. Bryce Maximus and little Zhuri share the trio from a marriage that was not such until three years after their arrival in Miami, when the waters had calmed down and LeBron was already enjoying the second ring in their windows. At that time, James did not renounce his roots, and built a foundation in Akron that bears his name and that was in charge of meeting the needs of children without resources, with a supervision of the player that was maintained daily even in the distance.

LeBron partially reconciled with the average fan with Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Finals. The Celtics, who prompted his exit early in 2010, were once again crossing their path with a Rondo who was in his prime. his career and a rejuvenated Garnett despite being 36 years old. The green pride, before their last chance to win a ring that they achieved in 2008 but failed to reissue, showed their pride and transformed a 2-0 into a 2-3, with match ball in a Garden to overflowing in which until Then, and in those playoffs, they had played nine games, losing only one. LeBron then escaped from his nightmare, saved a project that threatened to wobble and a Spoelstra who without that game might not be the Heat's coach today: 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists and a historical display with a master class included from middle distance . And 31 + 12 in the seventh game, ending the torture that said he did not appear in the important moments and putting the direct to the first ring of his career. One that he conquered again the following year, with direct collaboration from Ray Allen, the unexpected hero who represented the umpteenth star that the Heat signed, a phrase with a negative connotation for his haters but that adjusted, like so many other things, to the parameters of the league. The triple of the guard saved the King's throne in the sixth game and ended the dream of the Spurs (with 37 points from LeBron in the seventh), who took revenge the following year in what was the dismissal of the star of the franchise that he had given everything to him on the way home, the place to which he had given everything. Everything but the ring.

In 2014, LeBron returned to the Cavaliers, but their reconciliation had started much earlier. After the first ring, many fans began to subside a shouting that never quite disappeared but that had fewer and fewer followers at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Many began to wonder then if LeBron would return to the place where he was born and where he went every summer to work out in the gym, leaving the attractive beaches of South Beach behind to spend time at home, in a small section of apartments west of Akron in which his entrance to any store did not cause a huddle. There, James was still Gloria's son, and his lifelong neighbors greeted him with perfect normality. Soon, they began to speculate on a possible return that tempered the spirits, as if his former followers saw each year that passed as one less for the star to return. In Cleveland they began to see banners calling for his return, and LeBron's winks liked the fans. Especially when James Blair took to the court on a visit from Miami on a night in March. With the young man being held by the security of the building, the star asked to meet Solar with him and introduced him to his millions of followers on Twitter: "That's my guy," he wrote.

LeBron returned announced his return to the Cavs after the 2014 Finals, in which he was dumped for that quintessential Spurs collaborative play. It was through a Sports Illustrated letter from journalist Lee Jenkins, who was the chronicler in charge of materializing the special issue of Sporstman of the Year 2012, that LeBron liked to the point of choosing him to announce his return, in which he was the greatest sports scoop that the digital medium gave. "I'm Coming Home," read the text. LeBron was returning home after exiting the contract signed in 2010 thanks to a clause that set him free in 2014 or 2015 of his own choosing. Pat Riley thought he wanted a redistribution of his salary, but the forward's silence gave clues to the boss, who not even showing off his extraordinary power of conviction could retain him. His departure did not exert the same animosity in Florida, in which everyone thanked him for his stay except Riley himself, who said he had made "the worst decision of his career." Not even his eternal (and eternal) figure could make LeBron change his mind. The star subtly commanded his agent, Rich Paul, to hold conversations with other franchises (Rockets, Bulls, Lakers and Suns) but always with an eye on Ohio. James was quiet and wanted to keep his family on the sidelines, an unwritten rule that Riley broke by saying publicly that he was expecting a daughter, who would complete the family. Between one thing and another, the uproar was solved with the move to his new home, which was also the original, leaving behind a new immeasurable legacy that included four Finals, two rings and two MVPs, in addition to the best defensive version of his career, thanks to the genius Spoelstra.

The return of the prodigal son

The arrival of LeBron to the Cavs was accompanied by a lot of curiosity and countless movements. The now nicknamed King was reunited with Dan Gilbert, who in 2010 had written The Letter, a very controversial letter that David Stern sanctioned with $ 100.00 and that served as a response to The Decision. Owner of the Cavs since 2005, he said that he and LeBron had "five good years and a bad night" and his meetings with the star were fruitful in the face of his return, with both singing the mea culpa and beginning a new era. Davis Griffin, newly appointed General Manager, sent two draft number 1s (Anthony Bennet and Andrew Wiggins) en route to Minnesota to sign Kevin Love, in addition to firing Mike Brown, LeBron's first-leg coach in Cleveland, and signing to David Blatt. And then, luxury veterans and an eternal string of shooters to create a system monopolized in attack by James, who opened the ball or looked for an inside to finish the play. In addition to the disconcerting and talented Kyrie Irving and the recently signed Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Kendrick Perkins, the inseparable JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson (one of the few who was already there and who continues there) passed through the franchise during those years. , Mo Willians, Dahntay Jones, the eternal James Jones (same rings and same Finals as LeBron), the short-lived Dion Waiters, Matthew Dellavedova or even Deron Williams. All of them shared a dressing room with a man who finished well with some and worse with others and who saw how the template varied in part but the base, personified in his figure, remained immovable.

Blatt's departure for Tyronn Lue to take over the team generated some animosity, again because of the control and empowerment he represented. This joined the new theoretical super team that he had formed and which made it to another four consecutive Finals. The tremendous effort of 2015 (35.8 + 13.3 + 8.8 against the Warriors) and the ring of 2016, that promise finally fulfilled that led the franchise to the championship for the first time in its history, silenced criticism and increased a legend already of an objectively enormous dimension and that had reached heights that seemed unimaginable, including coming back for the first time from 3-1 in the Finals ... and against a team that had achieved 73 victories in the regular season, of course. So much he rides so much, Kevin Durant received criticism similar to his when he traded Oklahoma for Golden State, including divorce from Russell Westbroook. The same as for the Warriors, who had to sign the forward to win two rings that had previously been only one and with injuries to Irving and Kevin Love through. Irritable and fanatical debates aside, LeBron spent four more years in Ohio, became a hero, won an infinitely postponed ring, closed the circle he had started in 2010, when he headed to Florida without, according to Zach Lowe, wanting to leave Cleveland. Just, said the journalist, he wanted to win once and for all. Something that he achieved with his departure and, to his delight and annoyance of his haters, also on his return.

On June 8, 2018, LeBron played his second final game for the Cavaliers. It was the fourth round of the Finals, after one of the largest individual exhibitions ever seen in the playoffs (34 + 9.1 + 9 average) in which he fought through thick and thin, leading a limp and lackluster team , with a Kyrie traded the previous year, a Kevin Love in low hours and the contribution of veterans like George Hill, Kyle Korver or José Manuel Calderón pulling the car. It was the year of Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose or Isiah Thomas trades in the middle of the season and a lackluster roster in which neither JR Smith (and his team in the Finals) or Tristan Thompson had a presence. On that occasion, Akron had nothing to reproach LeBron, who with 4:03 for the conclusion greeted his replacement, Cedi Osman, and congratulated, in this order, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry (the quintet of death) before sitting on the bench in the middle of an ovation, without palliative or exceptions, from the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. LeBron put an end to his homework and a clear conscience, aware more than ever in that second stage that winning rings was extremely difficult (all the Finals were against the Warriors) but that his effort had been worth to put in the showcases of the smallest market, biggest gift. LeBron said goodbye, winning, once and for all, the most fruitful and mitigating prize in the world: redemption.

The jewel in the crown

At about 2:19 a.m. (Spanish time) on July 2, 2018, the NBA map was completely transformed. The history of the League opened, in fact, a new chapter with the union of one of the best of all time, LeBron James, with one of its great bastions, the Los Angeles Lakers. It was announced by journalist Adrian Wojnarowski, of course, who had been informed by Klutch Sports Group, the agency of a LeBron who had just spoken with the general manager of the Cavaliers, Koby Altman (who replaced David Griffin in 2017) just after he another call would have confirmed the news at the Lakers offices. The star signed a four-year contract at a rate of 154 million dollars, the maximum that the Californian franchise could offer him, which tried by all means to obtain the services of the best player in the world. The news was not entirely surprising, as LeBron had already winked at the signing: he had business in Hollywood, his wife was very happy with the move and his son Bronny would continue his promising basketball career on the West Coast. LeBron was leaving the Cavaliers (not Ohio, where he would continue his enormous social work with the 2010 wound healed), one of the smallest markets in the NBA, to land with the Lakers, the largest, and return to on the map to a franchise that suffered a gargantuan crisis that had not been in the playoffs since 2013.

The Lakers were once again the talk of the day, but the five years without a playoffs increased to six, a failure for a player who played fewer games than ever (55) with a groin injury and experienced that other side of the League, one that It had never touched him and that some considered normal with 34 years and after a 2017-18 in which, in Akron, he was the leader of the competition in minutes per game (36.9), which increased in the playoffs (41.9) and in the Finals (44.7). The bad season took away Luke Walton, who never liked what is called the LeBron environment. But he wasn't the only one who said goodbye; Magic Johnson, responsible for the King's arrival in Los Angeles after a fruitful meeting organized at the star's home, said goodbye talking about stabbing in the back and left a legacy as a manager diametrically opposed to the one he has as a player and that, beyond the signing of LeBron (which is not little), is full of errors and horrors. Jeannie Buss, who had won his particular Game of Thrones to his brothers in 2017, did not intercede in the dismissal of Walton, his protégé, and let the strings be pulled by a Rob Pelinka who achieved what Magic always resisted, with leaks including that they blurred the young sector of the Lakers and ended up being his grave: signing Anthony Davis.

Sharing a locker room with a new star (some criticism it generated, for a change), LeBron led the Lakers to No. 1 in the West after a decade. Also to the first Finals and the first ring since then. It is the fourth that the star wins, who has conquered them with three different teams, something that only John Salley and Robert Horry had done before and that along with James himself has been achieved by his partner, Danny Green. And the MVP of the Finals, the fourth of his career. It has done so in the year of the coronavirus, leading the cause favorable to the resumption. In the year of the death of David Stern or Jerry Sloan, two references, each at their level, from the NBA. That of George Floyd's death and the fight against Trump and in favor of racial justice (two concepts that go hand in hand), a claim that he has also led and in which he has become a voice and a conscience. And the death of Kobe Bryant, of course, that idol for a whole generation (or two) of basketball fans and that has been a blow that is almost impossible to measure for the NBA world in general and the city of Los Angeles in particular. Without attempting to fill a void that corresponds to a dimensionless figure, LeBron has focused on following his own path, building his legacy and dedicating it to the Mamba, constantly present in team clothing, squad statements and honors rendered. clearly and sharply for an entire season that is yours.

Jordan, on the horizon

The conquered ring reopens the debate: Jordan or LeBron? For many, the King already looks His Airness in the eye, but in other sectors by no means minority even mentioning the comparison is little more than a true sacrilege. What is clear is that the Lakers player has earned the legitimate right to participate in the debate, in the same way that Kobe Bryant did before. And while the Mamba was left behind, it seems LeBron can move forward in the debate and really question Jordan's historic leadership, virtually unchanged since his retirement. James has scored more points, grabbed more rebounds and delivered more assists than the former Bulls, has all possible and imaginable records in the playoffs and in the Finals, and has reached that round up to 10 times, records that neither Jordan got and they belong almost to the prehistory of the League, with Bill Russell and company. LeBron has reached more Finals than 27 NBA franchises and now has four rings, surpassing a great like Larry Bird in the historical classification, equaling Shaquille and placing only one behind Kobe and Duncan, the dominators of the previous generation. . Some say that the 6 Finals without defeat that Jordan played leave him above, that he was more decisive in his championships ... but in the end, the yardstick and the arguments vary depending on who you ask. Something that is, by the way, an inherent characteristic of the best League in the world: continuous debate.

LeBron has become in these playoffs the player who has played the most games, and is the one who accumulates the most points and minutes in the fight for the ring, being surpassed only by Magic in assists. In the Finals he averages 28.2 points, behind Jordan's 33.6 (and also behind leader Rick Barry, Jerry West, Kevin Durant and Shaquille O'Neal), but completes his performances with 10.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists. He has also joined Jordan as the only player in history to have at least four MVPs from the season (5 from His Airness) and from the Finals (6). In addition, LeBron is the absolute leader of triple-doubles in the Finals (with 11) and second in the playoffs (two from Magic) and has created his own legacy after triumphing on the beaches of South Beach, giving the Cavs the first ring in 52 years of existence and lift the most winning franchise in history (now it is) from its greatest crisis (six years without playoffs) to give it its 17th title and be crowned, once again, as King the world with just one year away from the Finals. You know, if you share a team with the star, you have a lot of chances to play the round in which the championship is decided.

Beyond a Jordan who will have to be compared to when he retires, the ability that LeBron has had to turn the very public opinion in a decade is what makes him so special. From being the most hated player on the planet and having a legion of fans opposed to him, he has come to be considered, more reluctantly or not, one of the best players ever, something that he is objectively. In two months, LeBron turns 36 and is in a franchise that can continue to qualify for the ring if he makes the right moves in the market. And he continues his way to Olympus, to the highest, without pause, advancing slowly but inexorably, fighting against everything and everyone, against himself and whatever has been put before him anywhere in an NBA that, one year then it is yours again. Maybe, just maybe, the biggest mistake was thinking that he was gone when in fact he has always been here. Perhaps, just perhaps, his greatest virtue is standing his ground against the tidal wave of criticism and pursuing a particular goal with fierce and ruthless obsession. What is not a possibility but a certainty, is that we are talking about a man who has been, is and will be, an intrinsic part of the history of the NBA. It only remains to know how one of the most gripping tales we have ever witnessed will end. One that, by the way, seems to have no end. Of course, LeBron is clear about what he wants the end to be, and the phrase he pronounced in Las Vegas in July 2014 to refer to the beginning of his second stage with the Cavaliers, is also valid to close these lines: "I don't know if all this is a fairy tale. But I hope it ends as those tales end. "

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