As much as Tuesday night was about the Cavs and a city celebrating a title, it was also about LeBron James.
When the Cavs’ ring ceremony began, and the names started to the called, everyone was cheered loudly by the crowd - even coaches, trainers and assistant coaches that the average fan may not even know exists. Minor players in Cleveland’s story - ex-Cav and LeBron friend Damon Jones, LeBron trainer extraordinaire Mike Mancias and players like Matthew Dellavedova and Mo Williams (who weren’t even in the building) that are no longer really with the team - were given almost total standing ovations.
But, of course, LeBron got the biggest pop of the night. When the screen played the full clip of his Game 7 block of Andre Iguodala, the roar was like the block was happening live. James was also the last player to get his ring - literally every teammate went through a handshake routine with him before they got their ring - and he only player to take the mic and address crowd. And quite predictably, he was cheered again then too and maybe not just for the title.
Oct. 25 in Cleveland has been dubbed ‘Title Tuesday’ because as the Cavs received their rings and raised the banner, the Indians were across the street playing in Game 1 of the World Series. LeBron, a little over two years ago without really being able to predict this, made one half of the night possible. The Indians’ first world series appearance since 1997 would have still sent the city into a frenzy, but it wouldn’t have been a city-wide celebration without LeBron’s presence. The chances of a team featuring no LeBron - and maybe no Kevin Love, no J.R. Smith and no Iman Shumpert - with maybe only Kyrie Irving to carry the load doesn’t seem likely to recreate the Cavs half of what some people already consider to be the best night in Cleveland sports history.
In the Q, the two games seemed connected; several people at the Cavs game were wearing Indians jerseys, caps and shirts along with Cavs gear and one girl even had on a half black, sleeved LeBron jersey and a half white, Indians Francisco Lindor jersey sewed together into one wearable Cleveland shrine. And after the Cavs beat the Knicks, many fans stuck around and watched the Indians game on the scoreboard as a group.
In the game, LeBron made his mark too. A mere 1:55 into the game, LeBron whipped a no-look pass from the right elbow that set up a easy dunk for Smith.
The rest of LeBron’s night was just adding somewhat vintage fodder for his already full highlight reel. There were his six dunks, - one short of a career high as pointed out by ESPN’s Dave McMenamin - his from-the-behind block of Courtney Lee and the triple-double he finished with. Late in the game, as he needed just a single rebound to get a triple-double, he checked the stats scoreboard to see exactly how many more he needed.
Not totally unlike the LeBron we saw in the finals, this was a player going after something specific, perhaps trying to prove a point. From the moment he hit the floor, James was trying to win and in a certain way. The way he - and his team - played last night didn’t indicate a group that’s comfortable just waiting until the playoffs to get going. This was a team that seemed to start off the season reminding everyone how good they actually are, and with LeBron reminding everyone what he’s capable of even after he hit a point where many figured he’d fall off.
“He had a chance to get tested this summer and they said he had a body of a 19-year-old,” coach Tyronn Lue joked after the game. “Maybe he’s getting younger: Benjamin Button. I don’t know. Who knows?”
The details of said ‘test’ aren’t available, but maybe they aren’t needed to confirm what is already known about LeBron. When he’s involved in something, he only drives it forward and makes it mean that much more.