It’s hard to believe, but LeBron James has now played 15 full NBA seasons.
And still, the 33-year-old James is widely considered the best player in the league. He’s not part of the league’s best team, though.
That title belongs to the Golden State Warriors, which completed the 4-0 sweep of James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals on Friday to become back-to-back NBA champions.
“To be the best player in the world and to give everything you’ve got in your 15th season,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said of James, “play all 82 games, probably one of the greatest playoff runs hat we’ll ever see from an individual, to carry this team the way he did all season and leading by example, it’s just a testament to his character and who he is as a person and as a player. He had a lot of opportunities where he could have sat out of games and was going through a tough stretch and wasn’t playing well, but he didn’t want to do that. And a lot of guys would have folded under those circumstances, but he didn’t.”
The last time a Finals sweep happened? In 2007, when the San Antonio Spurs beat a 22-year-old James and the Cavaliers in four games.
That’s right, James has now been swept in the Finals twice — both as a member of the Cavaliers. He’s now 3-6 in the Finals, an underwhelming record that can still be considered impressive because of his nine appearances in the championship series.
With free agency an option for James this summer, he faces an uncertain future. But as of right now, the 14-time All-Star has played for two teams in his career — the Cavaliers and Heat.
James will forever be connected to the Cavaliers (regardless of what happens over the next six weeks) because he’s from nearby Akron, Ohio and was drafted by the organization with the top pick in 2003. But it’s easy to make the argument that James accomplished more with the Heat than he has with the Cavaliers.
James won two championships in four Finals appearances over four seasons with Miami. He’s won just one title in five Finals appearances over 11 seasons with Cleveland.
That math is pretty easy. He’s won half as many titles in seven more seasons with the Cavaliers.
James’ championship in Cleveland will be the one that receives most of the attention on his career highlight reel because it marked the city’s first championship since the Browns in 1964 and the Cavaliers did it by becoming the first NBA team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals.
“At the end of the day, I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” James said of his second stint in Cleveland. “To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember. Honestly, I think we’ll all remember that. It ended a drought for Cleveland of 50-plus years, so I think we’ll all remember that in sports history.”
But if James’ time in Cleveland is indeed over, one title in 11 seasons can be considered a waste of a generational talent. And it makes James’ two championships during his short stint in Miami look that much better.
Kevin Durant, the real Finals MVP: With the Warriors sweeping past the Cavaliers in the Finals, the better battle was between a pair of Golden State teammates for the series MVP. One could make good arguments that Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant both deserved the honor. But Durant was named the Finals MVP for the second consecutive season, as he averaged 28.8 points on 52.6 percent shooting, 10.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists in the series. That stat line is impressive, but it was Durant’s 43-point performance in a pivotal Game 3 that earned him the award. Curry was pretty good, too, averaging 27.5 points on 40.2 percent shooting from the field and 41.5 percent shooting from 3-point range. According to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Durant won the Finals MVP award with a 7-4 voting edge over Curry.
“I know that’s a story line, and I’m sure it would have been nice for Steph to win the MVP, but honestly, I don’t think he’s that disappointed at this point,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “One of the great things about having the talent around him is that he gets to win championships. Two years ago we lost, and in Game 7 to Cleveland, and that was devastating. Steph went out and recruited K.D. with this in mind, winning titles. I was there in the Hamptons when we had that discussion. I don’t remember anybody asking who is going to win MVP in The Finals. It was all about let’s win championships together, and that’s what this is about. You guys can write about MVP. We don’t care.”
Game 1 loss really hurt LeBron: The Cavaliers’ heartbreaking overtime Game 1 loss in the Finals hurt them in more ways than one. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that James played the final three games of the series with a “significant right hand injury” — his shooting hand — after punching a black board in the locker room following the loss. The injury didn’t force him to miss any time, but it did require two MRIs and a soft cast when he was off the basketball court. Despite that, James averaged 34.0 points on 52.7 percent shooting, 8.5 rebounds and 10.0 assists in the four-game series. But it seems like the injury impacted his outside shooting, as he made just 3-of-11 shots from long range over the final three games.
“Self-inflicted, postgame after Game 1,” James said, confirming the injury following Friday’s season-ending loss. “Very emotional. For a lot of different reasons, understanding how important a Game 1 is on the road for our ball club, what that would have done for us, the way we played, the calls that were made throughout the course of that game. I had emotions on the game was taken away from us. I had emotions of you just don’t get an opportunity like this on the road versus Golden State to be able to get a Game 1, and I let the emotions get the best of me. Pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand, so that’s what it is.”