- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2016


I was among the presumed majority of NBA fans rooting for Golden State to defend its title. The Warriors were a breathtaking treat all season, a delight to behold, and I wanted them to cap their historic 73 wins with a championship.

It didn’t matter that LeBron James‘ legacy would’ve been collateral damage, dropping him to 2-5 in the NBA Finals and giving his haters more ammunition to blast his standing as an all-time great.

Fortunately for James and northeast Ohio, he didn’t let that happen. Instead, he turned in an unprecedented performance, becoming the only player in NBA Finals history to lead both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

He had a triple-double in the Game 7 clincher on Sunday — 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists — to cap his 41-point outings in the other win-or-go-home scenarios. Only the heartless weren’t touched when he fell to his knees and cried after delivering the city’s first championship since 1964.

Despite my rooting interest, I’m happy for James and happy for Cleveland, even though Cavaliers fans and despicable team owner Dan Gilbert don’t deserve him. Their response was deplorable when James exercised his right to leave via free agency. His willingness to return says a lot more about him than their willingness to re-embrace him says about them.

“That don’t matter,” James said after Game 7 when asked about those who burned his jerseys and trashed his name when he took his talents to South Beach. “That’s yesterday’s newspaper. I don’t think anybody’s reading yesterday’s newspaper. They’ll be reading tomorrow and that I’m coming home. I’m coming home with what I said I was going to do.”

He didn’t anoint himself “The Chosen One,” but he’s not shy in proclaiming himself the world’s best player. No one can argue after his utter destruction of Golden State and its baby-faced sharpshooter Stephen Curry, who fired blanks when the Warriors needed him most.

The notion that Curry has surpassed James as the league’s top talent? James squashed that thought as derisively as the two swats on Curry and as emphatically as the chase-down block on Andre Iguodala.

“I watched Beethoven tonight, LeBron James composing a game,” Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving said after hitting the decisive shot on Sunday. “He had a freakin’ triple-double in Game 7 of an NBA Finals. There will still be naysayers, but I know it doesn’t matter to him. It doesn’t matter to me. All that matters is we’re champions and our whole team is etched in history.”

If only it was that simple. Some folks will never be satisfied with James, never get over their animosity toward him.

Whether his transgression was being crowned “King James” before his first NBA game, or not winning every Finals and MVP since entering the league, or having the audacity to team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or openly acknowledging his unique combination of size, strength, speed and skill makes him unfathomable, James‘ critics are as legendary as his game.

None are more prominent than ESPN’s (headed to Fox Sports) Skip Bayless, who, minutes after Game 7, wrote on Twitter: “How can Kyrie Irving not be Finals MVP after his last four games?” That’s from the same man who, in May 2014, tweeted, “Johnny Football will one day be bigger in Cleveland than his buddy LeBron ever was.”

Bayless reportedly has about 27 million reasons to continue his trolling, but I don’t understand everyone else’s motivation. A Harris poll asked who is America’s least popular athlete. No one received more votes than James.

Then again, a separate poll administered by Harris in 2015 listed him as the country’s most popular athlete for the second consecutive year.

Apparently, there’s no in-between, even though James is more giver (a la Magic Johnson) than taker (Michael Jordan). He wanted to deliver something that seemed impossible in his hometown, regardless of popular opinion, regardless of the pressure.

“He deserves it,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s been the face of the NBA for 13 years. He’s always been on top, and just to come back to the state of Ohio, the city of Cleveland, to bring them a championship when he came from [Miami], where he won two championships, just shows you who he is.

“He’s a giver. He’s always looking to take care of people, always been nice to everyone. If anyone deserves it, LeBron James definitely deserves it.”

Especially after the numbers he averaged per game — 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.5 steals and 2.3 blocks.

I wanted Golden State to win, but I can’t be mad at being a witness to greatness at the Warriors’ expense.

Haters are going to hate, but they have to respect his game, too.

He’s left them no choice.

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