He was coming home with a mission to bring a championship to Northeast Ohio. He did not expect immediate results. “I’m not promising a championship,” James wrote in Sports Illustrated last July. “I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way.” It was a thoughtful, measured address from a fully matured superstar who had experienced enough to know the difference between aspirations and practicality. The Cleveland Cavaliers would be too young, too new to each other, to expect much in Year 1. A new team needs time to grow, to develop trust and good habits. James had learned these lessons many times over in his 11 NBA seasons.
It was a reasoned, sensible outlook. It was the right approach, the wise approach. Somehow, in all of that reasonable rhetoric, LeBron James underestimated the most important factor in play: LeBron James. That was never more evident than Tuesday night, when the wine-and-gold streamers burst from the rafters after the Cavs’ 118-88 Game 4 win over the Atlanta Hawks. James had led another city in another raucous celebration, as if the party merely migrates with him from one year to the next.
The Cavaliers are heading back to the NBA Finals—their second, James’ sixth—after completing a sweep of the Hawks and holding a commanding 12-2 run through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Cleveland has a chance to end its burdensome, half-century championship drought. There are many ways to frame this moment, and it’s not unreasonable to cite the decrepit state of the Eastern Conference as a factor. But more significant is what the Cavaliers, and James, just achieved.
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