If there was ever a question about who the best basketball player on the planet is, the 2016 NBA Finals answered it. With his Cleveland Cavaliers down 3-1 to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, LeBron James blocked out the noise (as well as Andre Iguodala), dug deeper than ever before, and rose to the challenge. In leading the Cavs to an improbable come-from-behind victory, the King once and for all silenced his critics and in the process, achieved the greatest milestone of his already remarkable career. You couldn’t write it any better. It was, by all accounts, the perfect ending — well, almost.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should probably get more specific. For James, the 2016 NBA Finals was perfect. He finished the series with averages of 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks per game (leading both teams in all of these categories); earned his third finals MVP award; and won the third NBA title of his career. Yet, concerning the 2015–16 season, James didn’t succeed in all facets of the game. By that, of course, we refer to the NBA MVP award.
For the third consecutive season, the NBA named someone other than James the Most Valuable Player. While the King definitely cares more about championships than individual accolades, considering how competitive he is, one would think this fact has to sting a bit. Fortunately for James, the 2016–17 regular season is almost upon us. With it, comes the chance to regain the prize that alluded him for the last couple of seasons. We think that’s exactly what he’s going to do.
If there’s one thing we learned in watching last year’s Cavs grow into a championship-caliber team, it’s that this group genuinely cares about one another. From top to bottom, players on this team trust and respect each other, forming the sort of unbreakable bond you only see in clubs that believe they are capable of overcoming any and all adversity. This is the environment James was hoping to cultivate when he returned home from a three-year hiatus in South Beach.
Best of all, save for the organization’s inability to reach a deal with shooting guard J.R. Smith, that bond has only been able to grow stronger in the offseason. If you look at the best teams in professional sports, a big key to success is the chemistry formed through continuity.
In an offseason that saw plenty of change throughout the National Basketball Association, the Cavaliers remained true to themselves, kept their core talent intact, and continued to build off the style and philosophies (instilled by coach Tyronn Lue) that resulted in a confetti shower at the end of the season. You better believe that if anyone will benefit from this sustained mindset, it will be the King.
It’s true that James hasn’t won the MVP award since his second season in Miami, but that’s not his fault. In all fairness, it’s because other superstars have simply had phenomenal seasons. Yet, compared to James, there’s one thing none of these other individuals have ever had to endure: the weight of an entire city resting on their shoulders.
James isn’t just the biggest name in basketball, he’s also one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. From the moment the world dubbed him “The Chosen One,” a bullseye firmly planted on his back. He’s spent his whole life under the microscope, with critics continuously waiting to see if he’ll buckle under the pressure. Another group of individuals, the championship-deprived community of Cleveland, entrust him with all their hopes and dreams. We can’t imagine playing under that kind of pressure.
Fortunately for James, these problems don’t burden him anymore. Against all odds, he led the Cavaliers to the championship, ending a 52-year championship drought in Cleveland. Essentially, he did the impossible. And the whole world judgmentally watched him while he did it.
With this mission accomplished, James can simply play the game he loves without fear of persecution. Considering he’s played the entirety of his career with the weight of the world on his shoulders — and thrived under such immense pressure — imagine what he can accomplish now that he has nothing left to prove. Yeah, we can’t wait to see it either.
There’s no guarantee James will beat the rest of the NBA and gain the fifth MVP award of his career. The league is filled with too many talented players with the skills and determination needed to keep the King from regaining his crown. We can’t hold it against anyone who sticks with the status quo and chooses individuals who boast better odds. But we’re choosing to go with the kid from Akron. And we feel pretty good about our decision.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.