LeBron James Deserves Reverence, Even If He Leaves Cleveland

Quicken Loans Arena erupted last Wednesday as LeBron James sank a game-winning, buzzer-beating three-pointer over the outstretched arm of Indiana’s Thaddeus Young to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a 3–2 lead going into Game 6 of the series.

After chest-bumping Cedi Osman and receiving embraces from his other teammates, James jumped onto the scoring table and pounded his chest as he looked into the sea of Cavs fans. Even if the Toronto Raptors eliminate my hometown team in this upcoming series, I’m grateful that one day I’ll be able to tell my kids I watched the greatest player to ever grace the NBA hardwood and was blessed with celebratory moments like this. As the end of the NBA season looms, James will have to make a decision — whether to stay in Cleveland or join another franchise. For now, fans must put the possibility of James’ departure to the side and appreciate what he continues to do on the court every playoff game.

Heading into the second round of the playoffs, many fans and analysts doubted that James’ efforts would continue to be enough for the Cavs to win games. I myself didn’t feel like the Cavs deserved to advance. The Pacers outplayed them in the first round, outscoring them by over 40 points. The only reason the Cavs came out of the series victorious was because of James’ heroic play. James, who only sat for a total of 27 minutes in the seven-game series, collected 45 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists in Game 7. In Game 1 of the second round last night, in his least impressive performance of the playoffs so far, James earned his 21st postseason triple-double and made the basket that sent the game into overtime.

Even if the team’s season ends in a disappointing fashion and James decides to leave Cleveland over the summer, I am forever indebted to James for carrying my Cavs for the past four years — winning my city its first championship in 52 years and taking us to the finals for three consecutive years.

In the 15th season of his career, James has been absolutely brilliant — even his best, you might argue. He became the only member of the NBA’s 30,000/8,000/8,000 club, running his career totals to 31,038 points, 8,415 rebounds, and 8,208 assists. He led the league with 3,026 minutes and 2,251 points throughout 82 games. He dished out 747 assists for a career-best 9.1 average and grabbed 709 rebounds for a career-best 8.646 average. He earned a career-high 18 triple-doubles and was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month four times, bringing his career total to 38 nominations.

In March, James said he was playing the best ball of his life when he was asked about his level of play in his 15th year in the league.

“[I’m playing at] probably an all-time high,” James said. “Just because of my body, my mind, and the way I go out and approach the game. And then, by the grace of God, giving me the ability to do this. I’m blessed, and I never take it for granted.”

His performance in the playoffs has been just as otherworldly and should solidify his reputation as one of the all-time greats. Tuesday night, James became the seventh player in NBA history to reach 2,000 rebounds in the playoffs. James became the first player to score 20 points or more 200 times in the playoffs and passed former Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen for most steals in NBA playoff history Sunday.

It’s unbelievable that the 33-year-old has put up the numbers he has, exerting as much energy as possible to carry his team — which hasn’t provided much help or support aside from Tristan Thompson — to the second round and past the better-equipped Raptors in Game 1 to steal home court advantage.

After beating the Pacers in Game 7, James admitted that he’s “burnt right now,” yet in Game 1 Tuesday he raced into the crowd to save a ball from going out of bounds — consistent with the effort and intensity that James has shown throughout the playoffs so far. We cannot ask for anything more from the King. In fact, we owe it to him to stop comparing him to other NBA legends. We should all just appreciate greatness while it’s right in front of us on our TV screens.

To me, it doesn’t matter if the Cavs don’t make it to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row, because James has given me something even more special than an exciting playoffs finish. I’ve gotten to enjoy marveling at the astonishing no-look passes James consistently throws, the clutch shots he sinks, and the hustle and heart he displays for his team and city each and every time he steps on the court.

Next year he might be a Laker, a Rocket, a 76er, or he may choose to stay a Cav. But no matter where he goes or what team name is displayed across his chest, James will always have a fan in me. James has given his entire heart to my city, and I was blessed to be able to watch him achieve greatness night in and night out throughout my lifetime.