LeBron James has finally brought a title to Cleveland.
After more than five decades, the city of Cleveland can finally celebrate a professional sports championship following the 93-89 win by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Golden State Warriors last night at Oracle Arena. The last such win came in 1964, when Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship. Since LeBron James was drafted by the Cavs with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, it was his goal to bring a title to “The Land,” something he came close to doing in just his fourth season in the NBA, when he led his team to the NBA Finals only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
Despite the loss, titles seemed to be certain for LeBron James and the Cavaliers, but the next year they were knocked out in the Eastern Conference semifinals by the Boston Celtics. The following season, LeBron led them to a franchise-best 66 wins, which turned out to mean nothing as they lost in six games to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. James and the Cavs once again held the No. 1 seed in the East the following year after winning 61 games, but they once again were ousted by the Boston Celtics. Head coach Mike Brown was fired and LeBron James took his talents to South Beach for the next four years after signing with the Miami Heat, whom he led to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances and two championships.
When LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, nobody knew quite what to expect from the Cavaliers as a basketball team. Point guard Kyrie Irving had become a star, and All-Star forward Kevin Love was brought in via trade. After four years of losing without LeBron, James had them back in position to win an NBA title. They won 53 games and finished second in the conference and made their way through the playoffs for a date with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. With Kevin Love injured in the first round against the Celtics and Kyrie Irving suffering a fractured kneecap in Game 1 against the Warriors, LeBron James attempted to put the team on his back.
Before Game 3 of that series, when it was tied at 1-1, LeBron James told ESPN that while he was ready to go, there was some “other motivation” outside of the obvious that was fueling him in his desire to bring a title to Cleveland.
“My motivation is to make sure my guys are ready and prepared every night we step on the floor. And I have some other motivation that I won’t talk about right now, but I have so many different things to worry about than being an underdog or guys counting us out.”
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Naturally, LeBron was pressed by the media to elaborate, which he wouldn’t.
“I hope we win so I can tell y’all.”
The Cavaliers obviously did not win that series, losing in six games. But with the Cavs’ Game 7 win on Sunday night, some light has been shed on what that secret motivation was and has been throughout LeBron’s entire second term in Cleveland. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin explained what James told him.
“People thought it was because Steph Curry was being considered the better player than him. It turns out he told me that when he left Miami—people who he thought he had strong, trusting relationships with—someone told [him] ‘you’re making the biggest mistake of your career.’ Basically, he felt taken for granted. ‘Look, I just gave you four years of my prime, and you’re not going to be comfortable with my decision, to root me on? You’re going try to make me feel bad going out the door?’ “
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) June 20, 2016
LeBron did not name names when talking to McMenamin, but as you saw in the video above, Mike Wise specifically called out Miami Heat president Pat Riley, whose relationship with James has been in question since the now-three-time NBA champion returned to Cleveland. There are some that feel Riley took a shot at James last summer when discussing the NBA Draft and the Heat’s plans going into it.
“No more smiling faces with hidden agendas, so we’ll be going in clean.”
Riley later said that he could have been talking about a number of people, but whomever is the subject of LeBron’s motivation, the city of Cleveland should be extremely thankful to that person. LeBron was the unanimous choice for NBA Finals MVP after averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists in the series and his triple-double on Sunday night was just the third in an NBA Finals Game 7.
[Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images]