By Chris Molicki
I don’t have a problem saying it. It’s not a hyperbole. I’m sure plenty of people will disagree. But here it goes:
The Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA championship on Sunday. And it was the greatest sports moment of all time.
Cleveland winning the title alone doesn’t merit that sort of accolade, but when you remember this story includes LeBron James and the invincible Golden State Warriors, everything changes.
The King Sits Atop the Throne
Starting with LeBron, this is the culmination of a lifelong journey of ups and downs, constant scrutiny, and having the odds stacked against him at times, especially in this series. James was from Cleveland, born and raised. He loved the city more than your most athletes love their hometown, partly because of who he is and partly because he knows what it’s been through. James understood that he was the basketball savior that Cleveland needed, and he made it his life’s work to bring a title home.
LeBron’s talent and basketball ability is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, making him the perfect man for the job. But things weren’t easy. Coming up short and poor supporting casts caused an immature James to spurn his hometown and head to Miami, teaming up with his pal Dwyane Wade to win two titles. It enabled LeBron to get the monkey off his back and truly begin to build his legacy, but in the minds of some people, as well as his own, he still had something to prove.
During his years in Miami, James grew up, both on and off the court. You can say what you want about him being a diva, complaining to officials, throwing teammates under the bus, but the fact remains that LeBron is a grown man, a cerebral baller, and he fully grasps the consequences of every move he makes. At 31, LeBron gets it.
So he returned to Cleveland when he deemed the time was right, teamed with Kyrie Irving, recruited Kevin Love amongst others, and continued his original quest. Now that it’s completed, it’s clear to see that everything has come full circle. LeBron James, one of the greatest (and most polarizing) basketball players of all time, brought a title to his hometown of Cleveland, a city that had become a laughingstock, ending a 52-year drought. If you don’t get chills just thinking about how incredible that is, you might need to get your pulse checked.
The Perfect Villains
Even though winning a title for Cleveland was always going to be an amazing accomplishment, the magnitude of the feat jumps up a few notches when you take into account LeBron’s foil: Stephen Curry and the 73-win Golden State Warriors
The Warriors established themselves as the greatest regular season team of all time, which isn’t up for debate if you’re looking at sheer win total. They created an invincible juggernaut of passing, shooting, and versatility. Curry had gone from best shooter ever to best player in the world. Teams, coaches, and executives were at least entertaining the thought of blowing up their franchises, conceding that no one was going to beat the Warriors for quite some time. All of this led to Golden State taking a 3-1 series lead (they hadn’t lost three games in a row since Steve Kerr had taken over as head coach), making a comeback all but impossible.
And then, somehow, it happened. LeBron’s brute force took over the series in literally every aspect. He baited Draymond Green into getting suspended for Game 5. He took his game to the highest of levels, going into attack mode and making it seem like he was playing a different sport than everyone else. He turned Curry, the Golden Boy and every kid’s favorite player, into the bad guy. He reclaimed his title as not only the best player in the world, but also the most popular player in the world, leaving Curry in the dust. His passes were on point. He rediscovered his jumper. And when he drove to the rim, he literally became unstoppable. He led each team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks for the entire series. LeBron was in the zone, and he couldn’t be guarded. Not by a 73-win team, not by the Showtime Lakers, not by the Department of Defense.
The greatness of LeBron James has become the truth. It’s no longer up for debate, but simply fact. And because of all these reasons, I’ve got a hot take (or maybe it’s not so hot) lined up for everyone:
Right now, LeBron James is currently the second greatest player of all time.
Many will argue against this, citing LeBron’s mere three championship rings. Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson all have five rings. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has six. Hell, Bill Russell has 11. But the way LeBron affects every aspect of the game of basketball, let alone the league itself, is something we’ve never seen before. He’s above average at everything and elite at almost everything. He’s physically dominated his peers time and time again, and just by watching him, you can tell just how unreal of a specimen he is.
There’s plenty argument to be made here. I was too young (or not even born) to watch many of the other all-time greats play the game, so it’s hard for me to definitively say how they stack up next to LeBron. But if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that humans evolve. Athletes get bigger, faster, stronger, and just simply better. If James was playing in any other era, it’s safe to say he would enjoy massive amounts of success.
The only player LeBron is looking up at is Michael Jordan, who displayed a similar level of dominance on the game of basketball, but also has twice as many rings as the King. James is 31, his career is far from finished, and he’s not quite at Jordan’s level yet. But he can absolutely get there, something that seemed out of the question a mere ten days ago.
James endured his fair share of losing in the Finals, something Jordan never had to deal with, so that was always going to be a factor in a debate between the two. But after this accomplishment, bringing a title to Cleveland, decimating a 73-win team, and coming back from something no team has ever come back from, LeBron accomplished a feat that has no equal. This championship should hold a lot of extra weight when the GOAT debate is discussed. And it gives LeBron the chance to, with a few more rings, truly go down as the greatest.
But for now, let’s revel in the moment. Let’s appreciate what we saw, what we lived through, and what doesn’t come around in sports very often. Let’s continue to bask in the greatest moment of all time, and let’s thank LeBron for letting us, as fans, experience this. I’m sure it won’t be long before he starts thinking about Number Four. Or Five. Or Six….