The story of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ championship win has less to do with Cleveland, the team’s owner or hateful fans, and more to do with LeBron James.
LeBron and the Cavaliers won by a score of 93 to 89 against the Golden State Warriors in game 7 of the NBA finals, coming back from a 3-to-1 deficit and clinching their first NBA title ever. And in the final game on Sunday, LeBron was responsible for 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, two steals and three blocks in Game 7. And the Cavs did it on the road to the defending NBA champs on the Warriors’ home court.
For LeBron it was the game of his life.
“Cleveland, this is for you!” the Akron, Ohio native told ESPN in an interview.
“I gave everything that I had,” he said as reported by CBS Sports. “I brought my heart, my blood, my sweat, my tears to this game. And … against all odds — against all odds — I don’t [know] why we want to take the hardest road. I don’t [know] why the man above gives me the hardest road. But it’s nothing the man above don’t put you in situations you can’t handle. And I just kept that same positive attitude, like, instead of saying, ‘Why me,’ I was saying, ‘This is what He wanted me to do.’ ”
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) June 20, 2016
Living up to the hype and to the expectations, LeBron entered the NBA draft in 2003, fresh out of high school and the best player in his county. As CBS Sports reported, he decided to enter the NBA at such an early age after being inspired by Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, who also skipped college and emerged as a top player. James would later compete against his role model, and play with him in the Olympics.
A family man and a man of character, LeBron has ranked among the most popular sports figures in Harris polls. James may very well be the most versatile player in the game of basketball, and arguably should be the face of the NBA, the new Michael Jordan, as it were, but with a commitment to the community. However, LeBron has his fans and his detractors, his haters.
When he left Cleveland in 2010 for the Miami Heat with All-Stars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, LeBron was criticized for running off the plantation.
In a letter to Cavaliers fans posted on the team website, team owner Dan Gilbert tore into LeBron for leaving the team.
“As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier. This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his ‘decision’ unlike anything ever ‘witnessed’ in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment,” wrote Gilbert, telling fans that the Cavaliers will not betray them.
“You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. You have given so much and deserve so much more,” he added, vowing that the Cavaliers would win an NBA championship title “before the self-titled former ‘king’ wins one.”
Calling LeBron’s departure a “heartless and callous action,” Gilbert even suggested LeBron was not a proper role model.
“This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown ‘chosen one’ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow-up to become,” he wrote.
In a statement, Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition called Gilbert’s comments “mean, arrogant and presumptuous.” The civil rights leader added that “his feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner-employee relationship — between business partners — and LeBron honored his contract.”
Gilbert’s outburst, for which the NBA fined him $100,000, was indicative of the slave mentality in professional ball and big league sports in general. It is the notion that Black players should shut up, do what they’re told, and shoot the ball. That someone such as LeBron would stand tall with a straight back and make his own decisions is a testament to his independence. Even today, people have not forgotten the Gilbert letter.
And to complete the night, LeBron should get to punch Dan Gilbert in the jaw. I kid, I kid!
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) June 20, 2016
Dan Gilbert proves you can exploit people w/predatory loans, make terrible decisions, alienate the world’s best player & still end up on top
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) June 20, 2016
Y’all noticed how Doris handed the trophy to Dan and LeBron quickly snatched it?! Oh, he ain’t forgot what Gilbert said!
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) June 20, 2016
— Kevin B. Blackistone (@ProfBlackistone) June 20, 2016
Never forget, Dan Gilbert pic.twitter.com/cMD3Rn0fAm
— KFC (@KFCBarstool) June 20, 2016
Dan Gilbert pretending he didn’t hear that question about LeBron leaving and coming back, like … pic.twitter.com/fFE6a9qTYg
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) June 20, 2016
LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2014 to bring the NBA title to his hometown. A poor city with its share of challenges — high unemployment, de-industrialization, home foreclosures, crime and pollution — Cleveland is the type of place that one supposedly leaves, never to return.
“My relationship with northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” James told Sports Illustrated two years ago. “I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
And the city itself had not secured a title since the old Cleveland Browns won against the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL Championship game, which was pre-Super Bowl days.
“I’m home,” James said upon his return, as CNN reported. “This is what I came back for,” he added. “It doesn’t feel real.”
“The people of Cleveland deserve this more than any other people I’ve ever seen or met or felt,” Dan Gilbert said of the Sunday win, as reported by CNN. “No group deserves this more. No fan base deserves this more. I’m speechless and proud of everybody.”
But in reality, the glory and the accolades all belong to LeBron.