"With our season on the line, at the end of the third quarter he said 'I'm not coming out.' I didn't have any intention of taking him out anyway. I don't care what y'all say. We're going to ride him." - Cavs coach Ty Lue
There's a story told about LeBron James. It's not one with bearings in any reality most humans live in, but it's there. When it matters, the story goes, LeBron James wants nothing to do with the moment. He wants to pass it off to teammates, the organization, his coaches, whoever. He doesn't want the last shot. He's more comfortable passing. He can't handle the responsibility.
In actuality, of course, James lives with more responsibility than any player since Michael Jordan. At all times. His presence in Cleveland for the Cavaliers has meant relevance, wins, and theatrics. Come Sunday night, it could mean the world. James has met every reasonable expectation placed on him. He was The Chosen One, and he's played as such since he came into the league. He's won two titles, he's won multiple MVP's. And he's carried franchises.
In Game 6, LeBron James picked up the Cavaliers in one of the greatest basketball games ever played. That's not hyperbole. For the second straight game he scored 41 points. With Kyrie Irving hobbled in the second half, the Cavs offense didn't skip a beat. James handed out 11 assists and just one turnover. He swatted the unanimous MVP Stephen Curry, and let him know about it afterwards.
This series was supposed to be a coronation of sorts for Curry, where he could enter into the conversation as one of the greats after really bursting on the scene relatively recently. He had led his team to 73 wins. He had the opportunity to beat James for a second straight NBA Finals. He has spent the season bumping up his swagger levels. Articles about how his Under Armour brand was surpassing Nike's James. Many have felt that Curry is the best player in the league for some time. This was going to be Curry's chance to let the less NBA-savvy world know where he stood in the pecking order.
That can still happen with a big Game 7. But for now, the story is LeBron James. He and the Cavs have the opportunity to knock off a juggernaut, and come back in the Finals from 3-1. That's never happened. Cleveland hasn't had a major sports championship since 1964. They now get to play for one on Sunday night. If the Cavs make that happen, and the heavens open up for Cleveland, James enters rarefied air. Three championships, one for a town that simply doesn't do that.
For Lue, he's already put himself into the conversation. His performance tonight was simply "LeBron being LeBron. He's one of the greatest of all times." The Warriors have the ability to put Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala on James. Even Harrison Barnes carries with him strength and athleticism. In Game 6, the Cavs repeatedly threw Stephen Curry into screens. When the Warriors switched Curry onto James, it was relentless. When the Warriors scrambled to give Curry help, James simply found J.R. Smith in the corner, or Tristan Thompson for easy lobs.
This was Curry's chance to show that the league is his. It might still be. But LeBron James is a historically great player that is close enough to the top of his game that you simply cannot afford to poke the bear.
Love me or Hate me but at the end of the day u will RESPECT me!!— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 14, 2016
This was a performance Cleveland fans can take pride in for a long time. LeBron James has carried unfathomable responsibility in his career. He's met every expectation, fulfilled every bit of the promise he showed as a high school phenom. On Sunday night, that promise might be fulfilled for the Cavaliers, and for Cleveland.