First, Congratulations on winning your fourth NBA Championship. I’m sure you thought you would be playing the Boston Celtics in the Finals however, you ended up having to face one of your previous teams. Jimmy Butler stepped up to the plate and pushed you hard in the Finals. However, you are LeBron James; no one can stop you. Like I said, congratulations on winning your fourth ring. I genuinely think that most Cleveland Cavaliers fans are happy for you. You promised us a championship, and by golly, you delivered. But Cleveland’s relationship with LeBron is hard to explain. I know you’re still active in the community in Cleveland. As I said it’s hard to explain our relationship, so we’ll go all the way back to 2002, where our relationship first began.
In 2002, you were a senior at Saint Vincent-St. Mary. You had been on the cover of Slam Magazine and Sports Illustrated already. I watched you go toe to toe versus Carmelo Anthony and the vaunted Oak Hill Academy. Although you didn’t win this match-up, you scored 36-points and cemented yourself into the number one pick in the NBA Draft.
You remember Cleveland back then, in the early 2000’s. The Cleveland Browns were terrible, and the Cleveland Indians struggled after so much success in the 90’s. The city itself was pretty run down. Cleveland today is much different. You helped do that. You embraced Cleveland as your hometown, you were one of us. When that ping-pong ball popped up, giving the Cavaliers the number one pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, people had hope once again. On draft night in 2003, it was a certainty that the Cavs would pick you number one. When NBA Commissioner David Stern read your name off, we all thought you were it, you were going to bring Cleveland success and glory.
Early on, things weren’t exactly perfect. In your rookie season, you were fantastic. Scoring just over 20-points per game to go with five assists and five rebounds per game, you won the Rookie of the Year award in the NBA. You also became the third rookie ever to average 20-5-5. However, with no real help around you, the Cavaliers went 37-45, and missed the playoffs. The next year, you were made All-NBA First Team, but the Cavs failed once again, and missed the playoffs.
The next three seasons with you was a wild ride. In the 2006 season you led the Cavs to the playoffs for the first time since 1998. Cleveland fans were ready to see playoff basketball. In the first round Cleveland took on the Washington Wizards and in your playoff debut, you recorded a triple-double. In game three of the series you hit your first game-winning shot. After taking care of Washington, LeBron and the Cavs faced off with the Detroit Pistons, and were swept aside.
The next year, you led the Cavs to a 50-win season and were the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs needed to get past the Pistons to reach the NBA Finals. After losing to the Pistons last year, something new was in store for Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If anyone ever asks me when I knew you were the best basketball player ever, I point my finger at Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals that year. I remember this vividly, you scored 48-points that game nine rebounds and seven assists. However, that game you scored 29 of the Cavs 30 points to end the game, which is where you hit the game-winning layup with two seconds to go.
After that incredible performance, you and the Cavs took care of the Pistons, and won in six games. In the clinching Game Six, shockingly the attention was not all on you! Do you remember Daniel “Boobie” Gibson? I sure do. He scored 31-points in that game six, and most people were thinking this might be a team of destiny.
However, that thought was quickly erased as the San Antonio Spurs swept the Cavs in four games. All four games, I watched, and knew that Cleveland didn’t have a shot. The Spurs were just bigger, faster, and had way more experience. However, now that you had led the Cavs to the Finals, people were expecting that to continue every year.
However, that was not the case. The next year you guys lost to the eventual champion Boston Celtics. The next year you won your first NBA MVP award, and while you began stacking up award after award, but could never quite get your hands on the real prize; a championship. Cleveland rolled through the playoffs to earn a date with the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. In game one you had 49 points, yet somehow lost. In game two you hit the most memorable shot of my life. The game winning three over Hedo Turkoglu. After that shot, we took to the streets, there was hope. However, you guys would end up losing in six games to the Magic. You left the court without shaking hands or talking to the media. Why’d you do that man? It was rude and it made you look like a sore loser. You also took off your jersey and threw it on the ground, as if you were done, you couldn’t do it all on your own.
That summer, time moved so slowly. Everyday new reports and tips would come in about where you would be signing that summer. Then the “Decision” happened. You chose to spurn your hometown, to go to Miami. Saying fans were angry is an understatement. Fans burned jerseys, they said they would never forgive you. I know this was an exciting time for you, but it was miserable for us.
Your years in Miami were brutal for Cavaliers fans. You won back to back championships, and you were clearly the best player in the league. All while the Cavs back home were fighting for a losing record and high draft pick. They drafted Anthony Bennett number one overall in 2013. You probably don’t even know who that is, I mean he was out of the league within two years. However, we did hit on two number one picks. In 2011 the Cavaliers drafted Kyrie Irving, point guard from Duke. Then in 2014 we drafted Andrew Wiggins, who never suited up for the Cavs.
You say your Miami years was like college for you. You got out of Cleveland and enjoyed yourself, learned new things, and found out that you need help to win. When you decided to come back to Cleveland, all was good again. I was beyond happy, you mean so much to Cleveland. Not only did you come back, but you promised us something that we would never forget; a championship.
At this point you were a veteran in the league, and you knew what it would take to bring a championship to Cleveland. You knew you needed help. Luckily Irving was already on the roster, and we acquired Kevin Love in a trade involving Andrew Wiggins. You now had your new big three. Not Bron, Bosh, and Wade. Instead it was now James, Kyrie, and Kevin.
The future was bright in Cleveland. In 2015 the Cavs won their way into the NBA Finals. However, you weren’t playing the Spurs anymore, you would be playing against maybe the best shooting team in the history of the NBA, the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie was already a no-go for the Finals, along with Kevin Love, who was the recipient of a dirty play. These Finals would essentially be You versus the Warriors.
You played your heart out, leading the Cavs to a 2-1 lead in the series. However from then on the Cavs struggled without two of their superstars. The Warriors won the championship in six games. You should have won the Finals MVP after averaging 35.8-points per game to go along with 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game.
The next season the defending champion Golden State Warriors posted a 73-win regular season. This could be the best team ever. Kyrie and you led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. Even with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love the Cavs were on the brink of elimination, down 3-1 in the series.
No one has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. You were getting older, and this could be the last time we had a chance to win the championship. Finally in game five, the Cavs got a little bit of luck. Draymond Green was suspended in game five, and behind huge efforts from you and Kyrie, the Cavs forced a game six. Game six was to take place at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. I don’t know about you man, but the whole city was electric that night. Something was in the air that night. There was one moment that I, and all of Cleveland, knew; we can beat these guys.
I woke up the day of game seven, Father’s Day, and I wasn’t nervous or excited, I just hoped we could keep it close. However, as the day went on, I began feeling more and more hopeful. Downtown Cleveland was in a frenzy. Everyone and their brother was there. The streets were crowded, and at max capacity. I watched game seven downtown on the big screen as well as thousands of others. The Cavs came out strong and led after one quarter. However, the Warriors came right back to take the lead into half time 49-42.
Most people thought all was lost at this point. This is Golden State, they don’t lose leads, they extend them. However after the half (shirtless) J.R. Smith hit three quick buckets to get the Cavaliers within one. As I’m sure you remember, the second half was very sloppy. Let’s fast forward to the end of the game.
There are three acts to this play. Three moments in the fourth quarter that were key to victory. First came your block on Andre Iguodala. That was such a clutch play, and it’s also time when Cleveland finally felt like it would have a champion. You were going to lead us to our first championship in 52-years.
After the block, it was Kyrie’s time. On the next possession the Cavs designed a play where Steph Curry would end up having to guard the more skilled Kyrie Irving. With just under a minute to go, and rather tough defense, Kyrie launched possibly the most clutch shot in NBA History. When the ball left his hands, I openly shouted “NO!” When the shot swished through the net, it wasn’t hope anymore, it was belief, belief that you would come through on your promise to us.
Finally, what may have sealed it for me was Kevin Love’s defense on Steph Curry that next possession. The Warriors drew up a play where Love had to switch onto Curry. For a guy known for his three point shooting and rebounding, his defense on that possession was unbelievable.
That was some of the most clutch defense I have ever seen. The fact that Curry just couldn’t get past Love. That defensive stop was all heart and the will to win.
Obviously the next possession, you went down hard on an attempted dunk. You looked like you were in a lot of pain, but Cleveland and I knew that nothing was going to stop you from taking those free throws. In this case one make was good enough. I could try to explain the ending of the game, so I’ll let your buddy Richard Jefferson do it for me.
After the fat lady sang, I sprinted about two miles to get downtown. I don’t remember most of it. People were partying in the street. Police officers were ecstatic as well. It was a scene from a movie. You did it man, you came through on your promise. For the first time in 52-years the city of Cleveland was a champion once again.
You were the unanimous MVP of the Finals. You delivered for Cleveland, and to me that is enough. The next year the Cavs lost to the Warriors in the Finals once again. That summer, we all kind of expected you to head to Los Angeles. You had done what you needed to do in Cleveland. We will never forget that night. My dad texted me after the game, “Best Father’s Day Gift Ever!”
You’re now out west doing your thing for the vaunted LA Lakers. Anthony Davis is your new Kyrie Irving. You are somehow still dominating the league at the tender age of 35. Some people were hurt when you left, but the majority of us just wanted the best for you. From 2003 until now, we have all watched you do your thing, hoping one day we would benefit. Well we did. Not only did you win the 2016 NBA Finals, but you put Cleveland on the map once again.
You won your fourth ring on Sunday October 11th, 2020. I just want to say congratulations. Personally I believe sports are incredibly special. They can make you incredibly happy, they can hurt you emotionally, but most of all sports can changes lives.
After all of that, congratulations LeBron. You have now won a championship for three different teams. That’s a pretty amazing stat if you think about it. However, the only championship I’ll remember is the one you brought home with you. There will sadly be no championship parade because of COVID, but even if there was, could it really be as special as the one in Cleveland? I highly doubt it. Finally, thank you for giving Cleveland something they haven’t had in a long time: hope.
P.S. Thanks for giving us shirtless J.R again. Love that guy!
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