By Eddie Gonzalez / @bansky
The final field goal of LeBron James’ 2016 NBA Finals came with 4:52 left in the fourth quarter of Game 7. “LeBron James makes 26-foot three pointer,” is how it will forever be listed in the play-by-play sheet of the game. Besides the distance, it reads rather unspectacular in text. It was James' only make in five three-point attempts. The 4:52 left in the game would seem to signify that James “disappeared” or “choked” again and added fuel to his detractors.
What is ordinary in text though, can often be absurd in practice. James’ three came with the shot clock ticking down, as the Cavaliers trailed 87-86 and over the outstretched arms of seven-foot behemoth Festus Ezeli. The shot capped James’ personal 6-0 run and erased a Warriors four-point lead.
They would never trail again.
LeBron hoisted the three-pointer and held his follow through like Monica Wright and set off one of the most frenzied four minutes and 52 seconds of basketball in the history of the NBA.
The Cavaliers' forward wouldn’t score another basket and he’d miss three more...but he left his mark on the game in another way. Even while struggling to score the final four minutes of Game 7 would be about LeBron James.
He may be the only human equipped with the rare combination of size, speed, leaping ability, hand-eye coordination and ferocity to make that block. Again, on the score sheet it reads innocently enough: "LeBron James blocks Andre Iguodala’s 3-foot layup." It was far more iconic than those eight words could ever signify.
He was behind Steph Curry when Steph made his pass to Andre Iguodala. Just past half court in fact, as Steph was nearly to the three-point line. There, LeBron broke one of the oldest tenets of basketball, he was faster than the ball as he covered the distance from the three-point line to the rim before Iguodala could get from the free throw line to the rim. A little diversion by J.R. Smith gave him the opportunity and he grasped it. It was an athletic feat fit for a Sports Science feature and a play that fully signifies just how all-encompassing James can be on the basketball court. It was a play so miraculous it felt like the game might be stopped as everybody caught their breath.
Golden State would never score again.
As the series went on, LeBron continued to make the impossible routine. With each passing day another stat was unearthed, another combination of numbers that LeBron slapped on the board that had yet to be achieved before. Each day, questions were answered, his legacy continued to calcify into its nearly cemented status. With each possession of The Finals his most envious critics were running out of legitimate criticisms.
With his performance, LeBron reached the hallowed ground where hyperbole is no longer embellishment, it’s factual. Legend is now biography. The grand proclamations of one's talent and accomplishments are simply statements of known knowledge. That was the most important game of LeBron’s career. That block was the biggest play of his life. That free throw was the biggest free throw of this generation. LeBron is one of the five greatest players of all time. We know all of this now. He’s proven it.
A series of circumstances created the perfect storm for LeBron to be the most overanalyzed and scrutinized athlete of all time. LeBron was born into an era where his every shot, pass, dribble could be dialed up online and analyzed and questioned. If one felt the need he could watch all 82 games of the Cavaliers season live, then again on replay with a few mouse clicks. Each day 24 hours of television need to be filled so performances need to be dissected with fine tooth combs. Where advanced statistics were created to further analyze the game beyond ordinary means. LeBron is the preeminent superstar of this era.
So with each action there are questions, but now they’ve all be answered. LeBron James is now the proud owner of two Game 7 wins in the NBA Finals. One at home and one on the road against the only 73 win team in history. He’s now recovered from a 3-2 deficit and become the first to ever overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. He’s one of only three players to ever have a triple double in Game 7 of the Finals. The list goes on and on. Any doubts about James delivering on the big stage are over, even when held against Michael Jordan’s pristine record. It’s proven, he thrives in this setting.
Though LeBron has now played 13 seasons he’s spent them with no true peer. Sorry Kobe fans, Duncan truthers and Kevin Durant apologists, none of them quite measure up to James historically. Instead, his competition was always a cache of ghosts, players he could never play against, shrouded with the cloak of nostalgia and given the gift of time shaving off their rougher edges and leaving only shiny diamonds in their place. The Jordans, Birds, Magics and Russells of the world are his only competition. It’s an in-enviable position of unparalleled greatness that James wore with honor and wielded with vengeance whenever his legacy was questioned. Now the list of comparable superstars grows shorter.
So here we are, LeBron sits with Jordan at the table. It’s no longer hyperbole, even Skip Bayless has admitted as such. A conversation is now there to be had, and LeBron’s movie is just now entering his third act. There he sits, the owner of three NBA titles, three Finals MVPs, four regular season MVPs at 31-years-old. The talent is clearly there, the accomplishments are yet to be stacked up but the conversation is starting.
LeBron James scored his final point of the 2015-16 NBA season with 10 seconds to play. It reads rather innocuous. “LeBron James makes free throw 2 of 2” is how it will be etched into history on the official play-by-play scoresheet. But it’s significance cannot be overstated. After a cataclysmic collision at the rim with Draymond Green, LeBron rolled on the floor writhing in pain, clutching his wrist. Eventually he scraped himself off the Oracle Arena hardwood to shoot the most important free throws of his life. In true LeBron fashion he missed one, making the second freebie even more dramatic. But he rattled it home, pleaded with his team for “one more stop” and then sealed his immortality 10 seconds later. He’s in rarefied air now. No praise is too much. As one of his many Nike crafted mantras says: it’s all been earned, not given.
An anti-social contrarian who hates everything you love, but loves everything you hate. I'm probably busy watching season 3 of The Wire, Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals or telling my kids to brush their teeth.