June 20, 2016
In one night, history was made and a promise fulfilled. LeBron James, Ohio’s native son and one of, if not the, best player of this generation, ended his city’s 52-year championship drought with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-ever NBA title. And he did so in historic fashion, crawling out of a 3-1 hole that no other Finals team had been able to escape.
On the brink of elimination after Game 4, the Cavs routed the Warriors at home to send the series back to Cleveland. Determined not to lose on his home court for the second year in a row, James delivered another show-stopping performance with 41-points and 11 assists.
The end-to-end Game 6 rout of the Warriors sent the series back to Oakland for the final game. In their record-setting 73-win regular season, the Warriors lost at home just twice. But even home-court advantage and second-year MVP Steph Curry wasn’t enough to overcome Cleveland’s magic–or momentum.
In one of the best games of his career, James had 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. He also scored his 16th triple double in the playoffs and seventh in an NBA Finals game. Kyrie Irving, who watched last year’s Finals from a hospital bed, capped his impressive Finals performance with a 26-point evening, including the go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute.
Their teammates, who had been fairly unproductive this series, showed up for the final game. JR Smith contributed 12 points, while Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson each scored 9 in the 93-89 victory.
Despite a game-high 32-points by Golden State’s Draymond Green, the Warriors’ other stars struggled, with Klay Thompson and Curry combining for a disappointing 31 points.
Curry, who many fans feel had surpassed James in talent and popularity, had an overall poor Finals performance. His frustration boiled over at the end of Game 6, when he threw his mouthguard into the crowd after fouling out. In his post-game interview, his frustration was coupled with obvious disappointment. It wasn’t the ending he–or his teammates–had envisioned.
“At the end of the day, you congratulate them for accomplishing what they set out to do, and it will be a good image for us over the summer and all next season to remember so that we can come back stronger,” Curry said. “That’s all you can do.”
While the Warriors will reflect and use this loss to fuel them next year, for the Cavaliers, who returned to Cleveland on Monday, there is only elation.
When the final buzzer sounded, James hugged his teammates and wept. When asked why this championship felt different, his answer was simple: “I’m home.”
“This is what I came back for,” James said. “It doesn’t feel real.”
This title, brought to the city by unanimous Finals MVP James, is more than just the sum of seven games. James was drafted No. 1 by the Cavaliers in 2003, whom he played for until 2010 when he decided to “take his talents to South Beach”. His departure was met with anger and sadness from his city; they burned his jersey and cursed his name.
In Miami, he won two titles in four seasons.
But for James, it wasn’t just the titles that mattered. He wanted to bring one home. Almost two years ago, the four-time MVP announced he was coming back to Cleveland.
“My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question,” James wrote in a July 2014 Sports Illustrated article. “But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.” And now he has.
“He deserves it,” first-year coach Tyron Lue said of James. “He’s a hard worker. He’s been the face of the NBA for 13 yeas. To leave Miami to come to Cleveland to give the city of Cleveland a championship, just shows you who he is. He’s a giver. He’s always looking to take care of people. He’s always been nice to everyone. If anyone deserves it, LeBron James definitely deserves it.” On Sunday night, a city rejoiced and celebrated, and their hero, who had returned to them and fulfilled his promise, lifted them up, thousands of miles away.