“Miami, for me, has almost been like college for other kids.” LeBron James said this an in interview when he came back to Cleveland in 2014. He took a lot of heat (no pun intended) for leaving Cleveland for Miami six years ago. But he went there for one thing: to learn how to be a champion.
In his last seasons with Cleveland he was dragging an underwhelming roster to heights they wouldn’t have sniffed without him. IN 2007, He took a team that started Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes to the Finals and was swept by a far better Spurs team. The following year, he was upset by a hot-shooting Orlando Magic team that featured Dwight Howard at the height of his powers. He averaged 39 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in those Conference Finals. But it wasn’t enough. He was a “choker” for not getting the job done. He was chasing ghosts. He was chasing rings. He was chasing Jordan.
So he left. He left in the worst way imaginable, yes. And agreed, he left to create a team that would be the odds-on NBA Champs. He was helped by an NBA Finals MVP in Dwyane Wade. But he learned how to win. He learned how to be a champion. He “went to college” for four years. And then he came home.
He promised a championship. He went to the Finals the first year, taking a wounded Cleveland team that won just 33 games the year before with him. It was his fifth straight appearance, now with two different teams. Much like the Orlando series, he went down in historic fashion, this time good for 36, 13 and 9 per game.
Then he did it all over again. Down 3-1, he went for 82 combined in games 5 and 6. All that was left was to beat the greatest regular season team of all time for a third straight game, second at home. He didn’t go for 41. He dropped a triple double, just the third man to do it in an NBA Finals Game 7.
I won’t be shocked if some people still criticize, point to Draymond Green’s suspension or his 9 for 24 Game 7 shooting. Those people would be fools. The Cavs beat Golden State with Draymond three times, including two potential close out opportunities. Game 7 was a slugfest. And LeBron was Ali, a half-step step ahead of his opponent for just enough time to seal the win. It wasn’t pretty. But it was a winning performance.
I’m a Bulls fan. I should hate LeBron. But I grew up watching Jordan; I appreciate greatness. And I’m now willing to entertaining the GOAT conversation. He’s definitely in the top three with Kareem and Jordan. And he’s not done yet.