To any readers who have followed my writing, it’s no surprise that I am an ardent Cleveland Cavaliers supporter. Sure, ninety-five percent of that stems from being born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. But, a very, very tiny piece of it is about one LeBron James, and it’s not just because he is a top-three player in NBA history.
A little bit of background about me. For as long as I can remember, NBA basketball has been my favorite pastime, and it came in handy during my childhood and teenage years. I had quite a few surgeries as a kid, and I always remember talking and watching basketball with my friends and family. During the late 1990s and early 2000s the Cleveland Cavaliers were, frankly, not a joy to watch. Yeah, I loved Lamond Murray, Darius Miles, and Chris Mihm (who wouldn’t?) but, when playoffs came around, I was a die-hard Lakers fan. As I’ve written about before (here and here), Kobe and Shaq gave me great pleasure. I remember going to Gund Arena to watch the Cavs play the Lakers two years in a row. I remember watching my first NBA Finals in 2000 where Shaq dismantled the Pacers. I remember seeing my favorite non-Laker player win a game by himself in the 2001 NBA Finals (for those not following, it was Allen Iverson). And I remember watching the Lakers comeback to beat Sacramento during the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
With that said, something else special happened in 2002. I was in fourth grade, and after one of said surgeries, my mom found a way for me to meet this high school student named Lebron James. He played for St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, and I had heard he was supposedly the next Michael Jordan, so I was beyond excited. Obviously, now, I understand it was a lifetime opportunity, but at the time it just seemed like something fun to do. My mom and I bought him the book “The Giving Tree” – mainly because we were thankful he would do something like spend time with a kid he didn’t know before the game – and I remember how appreciative he was when we gave it to him. Partially due to my photographic memory, and partially due to the power of the statement, I know he thanked us by saying: “everyone always expects something from me. This is the first time in one of these situations where anyone has given me something.”
That night we took pictures (see the article’s cover photo), talked for a bit about basketball, and then he went to warm-up and play a game. I have a lot of memories from the experience. Sure, he was unstoppable on the court that night, and during halftime he was hilariously playing with a toy hummer (yes, I was at the “hummer game”), but more than anything I recall just how nice of a kid he was.
I’ve always felt LeBron displayed kindheartedness as a teen to come and talk with me simply because I was a kid going through a rough time. When I watch him as a man, though, it’s clear that trait has multiplied significantly. Does the media portray LeBron to be passive-aggressive through social media? Yeah, they definitely do. Have I had any interactions with him afterwards to prove my view of his humanity? No, I have not. But honestly, when I look at the LeBron James Family Foundation and how LeBron is paying for countless inner-city children to go to college, or when I read Richard Jefferson’s marvelous letter about the 2016 Cavs and LeBron’s leadership, and even just when I watch James’ interactions with his teammates, his high degree of humanity is clear to me.
In basketball terms LeBron is the best Cavalier I have ever seen, and frankly, he is the best player I have ever watched. Indeed, I did root against him in Miami; however, seeing him compete was always a guilty pleasure. When LeBron penned the letter, I was overjoyed that he was “coming home.” And now, before game seven in the 2016 NBA Finals, I’ve had the pleasure of watching LeBron display the two best back-to-back finals performances of all time.
In 2015, while leading a depleted Cavs team, LeBron averaged 30.1 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game, 8.5 assists per game, 1.7 steals per game, and 1.1 blocks per game. In a vacuum, LeBron clearly should have won Finals MVP, but the NBA only awards it to a player on the winning team. This year he is averaging 30.2 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game, 8.5 assists per game, 2.7 steals per game, and 2.2 blocks per game. But the numbers get even more impressive. No player in NBA history has ever scored at least ten points, ten assists, five rebounds, four steals, and three blocks with less than one turnover like LeBron did in game six of the 2016 NBA Finals. Nobody, ever, period. James’ performance in game six was the greatest finals showing by a single player in NBA history. And that game is reflective of his play this entire postseason. Physical, dominant, impressive, and historic.
The high school kid who used his pre-game time just to talk with me – the one who clearly showed humane appreciation when my mom and I gave him something as simple as a book – will go down as one of, if not the greatest basketball player of all time. In doing so, he has a chance to win a ring for my city, a city that is starved of a championship. But even if he does not do so, I urge my fellow Cavalier fans to enjoy LeBron for who he is, a generational talent who plays for our team. But more importantly, LeBron is a guy with a large heart and is trying to do everything he can to improve Northeast Ohio.
Go Cavs. Let’s fucking win this thing.