We Are All Witnesses: A Fans Account of LeBron James’ Legacy

“Cleveland…this is for you”

Image Courtesy of Nike Basketball

May 7, 1989 will always be remembered for producing one of the most iconic moments in sports history. Michael Jordan’s masterpiece, The Shot, was born. Jordan, an assassin on the hardwood, had nothing but ice water in his veins when he buried the dagger over Craig Ehlo and subsequently closed another heartbreaking chapter in Cleveland sports history. While another episode in Cleveland’s depressive sports history was unraveling, a 4-year-old in Akron, Ohio was waiting for his shot to make a name for his hometown.

Growing up with his mother, Gloria James, LeBron’s rise to being one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen was anything short of an easy road. He faced great adversity on the way to stardom, moving from place-to-place in Akron just to seek basic, livable conditions. With his love of basketball beginning to develop at such a young age, LeBron knew that a commitment and determination to the game would lead him far in life.

Photo by Atiba Jefferson

Even as a high school athlete at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, LeBron James was just beginning his legacy of becoming one of the sports greats. During his junior year, James appeared in a sports column for SLAM Magazine, taking the nation by storm as the acclaimed best player in high school. Whenever and wherever LeBron would play, crowds of people would follow. From high school students, local Ohio residents, and even NBA scouts salivating out of of their minds from what they were witnessing, a high school kid from Akron was taking over the basketball scene at an exponential rate. LeBron graduated from St. Vincent –St. Mary High School in 2003, decorating his accolades with 3 state championships, 1 national championship, and his vision focused towards the NBA Draft.

Photo Courtesy of NBA.com

I was 8-years old when the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted LeBron James on June 26, 2003. Cleveland, a city that had been cursed with a championship drought for decades, struck gold by winning the NBA lottery, and fans once again had something to look forward to after being treated to countless miserable sports moments. James was noted to be the most glorified player to enter the NBA since the legendary Michael Jordan. Being compared to the historic 1996 NBA draft, filled with superstars such as Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, and Kobe Bryant, the 2003 draft was ready to flourish and stack up as the next generation of elite NBA talent. LeBron wasn’t the only player that NBA teams were looking to get their hands on. Fellow NBA prospects Darko Miličić, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were highly sought after in almost every NBA circle.

LeBron played his first professional basketball game against the Sacramento Kings at the ripe age of 18-years old. Critics had their doubts on whether or not LeBron would live up to being mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Going up against professional competition and hardened NBA veterans raised eyebrows to how well LeBron would transition to becoming a self-proclaimed legend. He had all the pressure in the world to show everyone what he was made of. James ended his first NBA game against the likes of Vlade Divac, Mike Bibby, Doug Christie and Peja Stojakovic with a stat line of 25 points, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds. Although the game ended in a loss for the Cavaliers, LeBron made a statement to everyone, proving that he deserved to be a part of this league and that he truly was one of a kind. This was his first test in defying the doubters and cementing his legacy.

A memory that I always have of LeBron’s dominance on the game of basketball was his Game 5 performance against the Detroit Pistons during the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. The Palace of Auburn Hills was in for a treat that night. That game will go down as one of James’ career defining moments, where he miraculously scored the final 25 points of the game for the Cavaliers, eventually clinching his first NBA Finals berth. Although LeBron and the Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs, his potential for greatness was being seen right before our very eyes. LeBron was 22-years-old when he took the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. I’m 22 right now…

Image Courtesy of NBA.com

Throughout his first seven years in the NBA, LeBron began accumulating accolades that not many would ever dream of. From accruing Rookie of the Year honors, to also being named an NBA All-Star from 2005 and on, achieving Most Valuable Player honors twice, and even becoming the Cavaliers scoring leader in 2008, LeBron solidified his dominance as the greatest player in the NBA. His supremacy in all aspects of the game became known amongst critics and players alike. But after being swept by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals as well as multiple other post-season failures, LeBron was hungry for his first championship.

With LeBron’s impending free agency status looming in 2010, he faced one of the toughest decisions in his professional career. On July 8, 2010, LeBron James announced in a live broadcast titled The Decision that he would join the Miami Heat and team up with superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to get the championship that he sought-after for years.

Video Courtesy of the Associated Press

The Miami Heat were overwhelming favorites to win the championship in 2011, and for good reason. Surprisingly, the Dallas Mavericks had something to say about that. Dirk Nowitzki miraculously defeated the Miami Heat in a six-game series. The shock was crazy to see. A superteam went down from just a group of role players consisting of a washed up Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and JJ Barea. The critics were stacking up against him, questioning his ability to ever be one of the greatest if he couldn’t even win a championship.

Reuters/Joe Skipper

LeBron returned to the finals the next 3 years with the Heat, successfully defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs, and proving that he is very well one of the greatest ever. During his stretch with the Heat, LeBron’s accolades continued to add up, becoming the regular season and NBA Finals MVP twice. His resume transcended the Hall-of-Fame. But the same question loomed in the back of everyone’s head…would LeBron return home to Cleveland once his contract with Miami expired?

On July 11, 2014, after weeks of nostalgic speculation, a familiar flame was lit; the rumors were put to a halt. In an article written on sportsillustrated.com titled, I’m Coming Home, LeBron James announced his homecoming with his hometown. A new light illuminated Northeast Ohio. The King was coming home.

With the additions of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers were ready to bring this city their first championship in more than 50 years. But it wasn’t going to come easy.

Just as he said in his letter announcing his return to Cleveland, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.” LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers faced their greatest challenge yet in the Golden State Warriors. One of the most exciting teams in recent memory was Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are an endless barrage of offense reminiscent of the “7 seconds or less” Phoenix Suns under Mike D’Antoni, with a relentless combination of offense and defensive versatility throughout the entire roster. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green was nothing to mess with.

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LeBron had to face the Warriors without Irving and Love in the 2015 NBA Finals, as both of them faced injuries that ended their post-seasons. The end result of the series was just as you may expect, with the Cavaliers going down 4–2 against the Warriors. Even though that championship run ended with failure for LeBron, the fan in me still saw something astonishing in that series. LeBron singlehandedly defeated the Warriors on his own in back-to-back games. LeBron averaged an insanely heroic 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists in those six-games; all stats that worthy of him becoming the Finals MVP.

Once again, it ended in a loss for him, but I could finally see it. After 12 years of playing in the NBA and watching him make his name on the hardwood, I could finally say that LeBron James was the greatest basketball player I have ever witnessed play this sport. Not Kobe. Not Jordan. Not Magic. LeBron.

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I just knew that if the Cavaliers had a full, healthy roster, they could very well give the Warriors a real challenge. They got just that. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were able to play alongside LeBron for the 2016 NBA Finals, a series that went down in history. The Cavaliers faced the Golden State Warriors once again in a rematch. The one caveat this time, the Warriors were arguably the greatest team in NBA history, breaking the regular season record for most wins in a season over the 1995–1996 Chicago Bulls by just one game. The Warriors did the impossible in the regular season, but LeBron did have the last laugh in the Finals.

The Warriors had the upper hand, leading the series 3–1, preparing Cleveland fans for another chapter of heartbreak in their already tortured sports city. Cleveland had other plans. LeBron and company knew exactly what was on the line and they didn’t want to see failure at the end of this series. The Cavaliers were all in, forcing a Game 7 in the Finals. LeBron threw it all out on the hardwood, and came out victorious. A new light has risen in the city of Cleveland.

Video Courtesy of NBA

I didn’t even need to see LeBron win his third championship to confirm what I already knew. But everyone can now acknowledge the player that he is, and the legacy that he has created. He brought his city the championship that they so desired, and it’s absolutely beautiful to see how much love and affection he shows for this game.

52 years have passed since Jim Brown and the 1964 Cleveland Browns gave the city their championship. Some kid from Akron, Ohio broke the curse. Regardless if you are team Warriors or team LeBron, please remember that the history that we are witnessing on the hardwood will not be here forever. Simply put, recognize and appreciate greatness.

LeBron’s rookie season in the NBA was just around the time that I started religiously watching basketball. His growth during the 14 years that he has been playing basketball is amazing. LeBron made me believe that impossible is truly nothing. Although I will always be a Phoenix Suns fan until the day I die, I will always respect everything that LeBron has accomplished so far in his transcendent career.

With 2017–2018 season slowly awaiting us, I look forward to see what LeBron can accomplish with his team, and the storylines that will develop in the future of his career. Are the rumors true and will LeBron become a member of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2018 offseason? All I know for sure is that we as fans need to continue to appreciate all that he has done for this sport and recognize the greatness that is his legacy.

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