In a fairytale, once the hero has saved the princess and accomplished his goals, the story ends. We never know what goes on after the fact but we can presume that with such a big burden lifted of his shoulders, the hero lives a much happier life. With the NBA starting in less than a month, we are going to see the full realization of such a scenario in Cleveland.
Since he took the league by storm in 2003-04, the story revolving LeBron James has always included Cleveland in a major role. During his formative years, Cleveland was LeBron’s committed lover. James loved the city and Cleveland loved him back. However as in any relationship, the two had their ups and downs. Despite James being more than up to his hype, the Cavaliers kept failing to provide him with any type of support. As James reached the top of his powers, the best teammates the Cavaliers were able to conjure up were people like Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and over the hill veterans like Antawn Jamison and fat Shaquille O’Neal. Not exactly the King Arthur’s knights of the round table.
Despite the flaw in the team’s roster building abilities, LeBron dragged the Cavaliers kicking and screaming to the 2007 NBA finals. In what was the perfect microcosm of his first stint with the Cavaliers, James dropped 48 points on the Detroit Pistons, including the last 25 points for his team, during the Eastern Conference Finals. Of course, the Spurs crushed them in the finals because no one else bothered to step up.
After that loss, the Cavaliers never returned to the promise land. James’ contract expired during the summer of 2010 and the hero found himself a mistress in the form of the Miami Heat. We all know how that went for James. United with two other kings, the Heat won back to back crowns and finally the questions about James’ legacy were able to die off. Except that they didn’t completely.
You see, winning the NBA championship had always been high on James’ list but winning one in his hometown was his legacy. Despite how unfair it may seem, James would always be criticized if he spent his entire NBA career without winning a ring for one of the most depressing cities in North America. He understood this himself proven by the letter he outlined when he announced his decision to come back to Cleveland in 2014.
In an instant, James went from the city’s biggest antagonist to its most beloved hero once more. Although the Cavaliers supplied him with much more talent this time around, last summer’s NBA finals against Golden State had us all thinking back to 2007. Without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, both of whom went down with injuries during the postseason, James willed his much weaker squad to close battles against one of the best teams of the decade. That James and what was left of his team managed to take two games against the Warriors was a feat in itself.
The more time passed, the more it looked like James’ ultimate legacy would go unfulfilled. The Warriors followed up their 2015 championship with a historic 73 win campaign in 2015-16. At times they looked like the best basketball team ever assembled. In their fated rematch with these Warriors, Cleveland looked unprepared. Golden State took a 3-1 lead, something no team had ever crawled back from in the NBA Finals.
That’s when LeBron decided he needed to take matters into his own hands. At the end of the day, with all the talents he had within himself, he couldn’t let anyone else dictate his legacy. After three outlandishly good performances, he had done it. The dragon had been slayed, and the load he had carried on his shoulders from day one as an NBA rookie? It was gone forever. Were this a fairy tale, this is where everything would end.
Only thing is, this is real life and the show goes on. LeBron James is now a champion in his own city and has no pressure on his shoulders for the first time in forever. The Cavaliers could fail to win another chip until he retired and he would still go down as a folk hero. Especially with Kevin Durant’s decision to sign with the Warriors making an already historic team even better. That being said, consider this. We have never seen LeBron James play completely loose, he might reach a level we didn’t even think we had in him. We’ve all seen his Instagram stories and Snapchats, LeBron is feeling lighter and at peace more than he ever has. Rarely does a player’s 3rd championship mean so much more than his first but in James’ case it does in spades.
Another thing to consider is James’ legacy and how internalizes it. Most basketball fans are aware of how much NBA history LeBron James knows and how important he places his own presence within it. James knows how he would be seen if he were the one to take down this newly formed Golden State super team. All of a sudden why shouldn’t beating Michael Jordan be an attainable goal? Plus, from his perspective, if he fails nothing will change because most people already expect him to.
So where does James’ story end? Will the sequel be as satisfying as the original was or will the villain come back too strong? None of us know but it’s a major reason why the NBA will be so exciting in 2016-17. For the first time, James has nothing to play for and for some people that might be a bad thing but for LeBron, it’s what he’s been working towards his whole career.