Now that Kobe Bryant has retired the mantle of best basketball player on the planet rests firmly on the shoulder of King James.
By leading the Cleveland Cavaliers historic comeback from a 3-1 deficit against the best regular season team in the history of the NBA LeBron James has taken the mantle from Bryant, leaving no doubt who is officially the face of professional basketball on the planet.
There was a tremendous debate among basketball analysts and fans around the world that Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry had assumed that iconic “best player in the world” title from James with a prolific regular season coming into this series. Curry had led his team to a 73-9 record and earned his second consecutive most valuable player award so his argument was compelling. The Warriors had the best regular season home record so every decisive final postseason game would be played in their building.
But that didn’t matter for James who was a virtuoso on the game’s grandest stage. After being maligned for his inability to perform at a level worthy of his greatness in championship moments it was ultimately his will beyond the unbelievable stat line that brought Cleveland its first world championship since 1964. He averaged 29.7 points 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists – numbers that by NBA Finals standards eclipse legendary totals of Michael Jordan and Bryant – for the series.
But the legend was cemented as James elevated his game with consecutive 40 point performances in elimination games five and six to force the series finale. In game seven – at Oracle Arena which was the toughest building for opponents to win this season – James became only the third player to post a triple double (27 pts 11 rebounds 11 assists) in that ultimate game.
Still the “force” of James – as Golden State coach Steve Kerr acknowledged – was personified by the game saving defensive play. He swooped in from the wing to block Andre Iguodola’s layup attempt with 1:50 remaining. It set the stage for Kyrie Irving’s dramatic game winning three pointer to win the series.
The James detractors now must eat crow. Six consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, three titles, championship statistical metrics, two Olympic gold medals, and ending a 52-year championship curse in Cleveland validate his all-time greatness. He is one of the top five players all time…period.
LeBron James is now King of the NBA and is now the thumbprint of the game around the world.