By Tony Massarotti
And so this is how it ends for the self-proclaimed best player in the world: LeBron James loses in six. In the big picture and the small, in Miami or in Cleveland, the score remains the same. James went to six games in his sixth career trip to the NBA Finals, and no matter you slice it, the score comes up the same. Other Guys 4, LeBron 2.
For now, perhaps, finally and forever, this should put an end to the discussion of LeBron vs. Michael, the latter of whom went 6-0 in six trips to the Finals and never so much as reached a seventh game. But that is beside the point. The question now concerns where LeBron is going, what he has planned, because suffice it to say that there are few athletes as shrewd as James, Jordan included when it comes to the business of Me.
Tell you what: read ESPN’s Brian Windhorst today and ask yourselves this: if LeBron is as committed to Cleveland as many believe him to be, then why has he shrewdly leveraged the Cavaliers to the point where it feels as if he is running the franchise? The answer: because he knows teams are not to be trusted. Because he’s smart. Because he’s already writing the next chapter. James isn’t winning on the court nearly as much as he is off it, holding the Cavs hostage with contract options that effectively have put a gun to the organization’s head.
I left you once for non-support … and I’ll do it again. So please. Do as I say.
“Well, I mean, we had many chapters,” James told reporters last night after the Golden State Warriors defeated James and the undermanned Cavaliers, 105-97, to win the 2015 NBA championship. “We had many chapters in the season. I don’t know. I mean, for me, it’s never a success if you go out losing. But I think we put ourselves back where this franchise needs to be, being a contender. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Pay mind to those last several words, Cavs followers: But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.
This is LeBron’s way of keeping the Cavs on their toes, of reminding them that he holds the hammer in this relationship, that Cleveland goes back to the days of Ted Stepien and Phil Hubbard if LeBron doesn’t get what he wants. Heck, who’s kidding who? The Cavs go back to the days of Anthony Bennett. Cleveland didn’t really exist before James and it won’t exist after. And before anyone mentions Mark Price or Brad Daugherty, remember that those Cleveland teams lived in the shadow of Jordan, too.
Before anyone misinterprets all of this, let’s get this out there: James is not to be blamed for this loss to the Warriors, not really. When the Cavs really needed it, James had a substandard Game 6, but he was running uphill in this series from the final minutes of Game 1, when Kyrie Irving cracked a kneecap. Right then and there, the Cavs’ championship chances went poof. James and the Cavs put forth a commendable effort in the end, extended the series to six games and even led at one point, but at times in Game 6, James seemed to flash back to his pre-Miami days, letting his teammates hang themselves as if he were making a statement.
J.R. Smith. Matthew Dellavedova. Iman Shumpert. James Jones. Combined in Game 6, that collection of “talent” went 7-for-29 from the floor with three assists, six turnovers and 18 fouls. In Game 6, they averaged 30.5 minutes.
You want me to win with this?
And so, was this LeBron’s fault? No. Of course not. But then, that is also part of the problem. With LeBron, it rarely is.
“I mean, it was a great series up until‑‑ they blew the game open in the fourth in Game 5, but we had a chance there,” James said. “Tonight we had our chances, but, you know, we ran out of talent. We ran out of talent tonight. We gave everything we had. The guys played as hard as they could as long as we could.”
For what it’s worth, when asked about his and the Cavs’ prospects for the immediate future, James last night said he hasn’t “thought about next season at all.” Of course, this is a lie. James was starting to close in on his 30th birthday when he took the floor again for the Cavaliers last fall, and he will be 31 in December. It is difficult to know how many truly elite years he has left. Stephen Curry was the Most Valuable Player of the NBA this season and Anthony Davis may be the league’s future, and LeBron knows the clock is ticking. He has always been wise beyond his years. During this postseason James repeatedly talked of how much maintenance was required to get himself ready for these games, and if he weren’t so good at using his leverage, we’d suggest he were starting to get in touch with his own mortality.
“Well, of course you question [whether the effort was worth it in defeat], especially when you get to this point.” James said. “I always look at it, ‘Would I rather not make the playoffs or lose in The Finals?‘ I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve missed the playoffs twice. I lost in The Finals four times. I’m almost starting to be like, ‘I’d rather not even make the playoffs than to lose in The Finals. It would hurt a lot easier if I just didn’t make the playoffs and I didn’t have a shot at it.’ But then I look back in and I start thinking about how fun it is to compete during the playoffs and the first round, the second round, and Eastern Conference Finals. If I’m lucky enough to get here again, it will be fun to do it.
“But [I] put my body through a lot, you know?” James concluded “But it’s the price for your body feeling this way for winning. Did I win? I didn’t win a championship, but I’ve done a lot of good things in this first year back, and hopefully I can continue it.”
You got that Cleveland?
If you ask me, that sounds a little like a threat.
Tony Massarotti covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, and now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.