It should come as no surprise that LeBron James finished as the top player in Fear the Sword’s #CavsRank. James is the most decorated Cavalier - a three-time NBA Champion, three-time Finals MVP, four-time regular season MVP, 12-time All Star, 10-time All-NBA First Team, the all-time scoring leader of the Cavaliers Franchise, the NBA’s 11th all-time scoring leader, 18th all-time in assists. He is the highest paid player in the league at $30.96 million. He is a living superlative. And, perhaps his crowning achievement, he ended Cleveland’s 52-year title drought this past June with the first ever Finals 3-1 comeback and a dominant series performance that led all players (on the Cavaliers and Warriors) in points (208), rebounds (79), assists (62), steals (18), and blocks (16).
James is a very talented basketball player, and I’d argue the best player on the planet. For as much as the 2015-16 season was a coronation for Steph Curry as the next-in-best, the NBA Finals were a reminder that it is still fairly difficult to snatch the crown. Don’t put James in the past tense just yet.
At the championship rally, James’s teammate and Fear the Sword’s second best Cavalier, Kyrie Irving, asked his teammates a question, “What’s Next?” For James, that is a difficult question to answer. He has spent most of his 13 year career in pursuit of one goal, a championship for Northeast Ohio. Thirteen years is almost an understatement. One could imagine that James has been putting up shots with a hometown championship in mind well before he even set foot on an NBA court as a Cavalier. At age 31, he is entering (if he hasn’t already) the last phase of his career. He brought a championship home. So, what is next?
The offseason has seen the retirement of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett. Three legends that have cemented their legacies in the NBA, two in the same prep-to-pro pipeline that James followed. Headed into the 2016-17 season, the talk has moved on to the one-and-done generation. Kevin Durant took his talents to the Bay and has teamed up with the 73-win team that had their own 3-1 comeback against his Thunder last May. And as Lee Jenkins reported, about the same time Durant made his move to Golden State, “James started setting his alarm for 5 a.m.” What’s next? A rubber match with an upgraded Golden State.
James’s legacy isn’t done yet. In that same Jenkins piece he owned up to chasing the ghost of a Chicago legend, Jumpman. He’s trying to defy gravity with the Generalissimo in GOAT, and although at age 31 he has matched his ghost’s three-titles, James’s 3-4 Finals record still dwindles to Jumpman’s 6-0. For now, the road to three more appears to go back to Golden State, and James is getting ready to run it back.
In order to run it back, James has new set of skills to hone. He’s the leader of the team and at 31-going-on-32 he’s going to need help. The playoffs saw a different kind of LeBron, and one I’d anticipate to see more of in 2017 and beyond. Through 21 games in the playoffs, he made his teammates great - in assists, in team meals, in motivational texts, in telling Kyrie to take the shot. And through that leadership and mentorship he defeated a team with the greatest regular season team of all time. That team is, arguably, a bit better this year and he needs to make the Cavaliers great yet again. For as much as one can hope he has another 208/79/62 series (or three) left in his tank. He’ll be looking to teammates like Irving and Love and Thompson (and hopefully JR Smith) to have their best moments next. (A week into a volunteer training camp he seems to be doing a decent job.)
Headed into the 2016-17 season, the Cavaliers can expect a new king. LeBron James is still the best player on the team, but he his goals have changed. Gone are the anxieties, the subtweets, the mirror selfies, and the shadows of a title 52 years in the making. The weight of Northeast Ohio is lifted off his shoulders. In it’s place, James now stands on the support of his city and his teammates, 38 some thousand minutes on his legs, as the greatest Cavalier of all time chasing the greatest of all time.
For James, the greatest Cavalier of all time or greatest player on the planet in 2016 isn’t enough. He wants to be the greatest, period.
1st Place Votes: 13