LeBron authors greatest moment in Game 7

It felt different this time.

As the buzzer sounded and Marreese Speights’ irrelevant heave clanged off the back of the rim, the Cavs’ bench exploded with joy and LeBron lifted his arms up in near-disbelief.

You can imagine everything that James was feeling at that moment, when he grabbed the first guy in a long-sleeve black jersey he could find (ironically Kevin Love) and hugged him like a long-lost relative or Tom Hanks at the end of ‘Cast Away’.



Pure, uninhibited joy.

LeBron's championship celebration was more genuine, more real than any of the moments he had in Miami. (AP Photo)

LeBron’s championship celebration was more genuine, more real than any of the moments he had in Miami. (AP Photo)

It was like that feeling when you’ve been waiting for a terrible grade on your report card, but it comes back with straight A’s. All of the doubt, anxiety and loathing washed away.

This wasn’t like the two championship moments LeBron had with the Heat, a distasteful, synthetic juggernaut that was impossible to root for unless you’re one of those people who likes Duke, the Yankees and the Cowboys.

This time, it was relatable. It was about family, friends, and finally making good.

This time, it was about a man with the weight of an entire region on his shoulders, a favorite son who had let them down but then promised to make it right, coming through even after it looked hopeless.

The emotion was real. And you could feel it seeping through your living room television, as players and coaches jumped around and hugged each other, nearly all of them in tears.

There was that powerful shot of Tyronn Lue crying on the bench, alone. There was J.R. Smith crying and thanking his parents in the postgame press conference. And then there was LeBron himself crying–the last heavy burden having finally been removed from his broad shoulders.

This was a victory for belief over doubt, for trusting yourself and shutting out the noise.

It wasn’t just LeBron that had to overcome that all-encompassing doubt–it must have eaten away at Kyrie Irving too, as his defense, his heart, his worth as a basketball player were all on trial. He came through with the biggest shot of the season and certainly the biggest of his prodigal shot-making career with less than a minute left in Game 7–proving himself in the most pressure situation of all.

No, the Warriors didn’t look like themselves in this series. Steph Curry was way off, playing more like Swaggy P. than the unanimous MVP. He was volatile and unpredictable with the ball, taking bad shots, throwing awful, ill-advised passes, and looking like a misguided high schooler out there at times.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, center, celebrates with teammates after Game 7 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 19, 2016. The Cavaliers won 93-89. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The Cavs were the better team in this NBA Finals. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

It was stunning for Golden State, which looked like it was on its way to becoming the next ’90s Bulls, first by breaking their all-time wins record and then by emulating their likability with another championship behind a transcendent star whose awe-inspiring gifts could captivate the imaginations of even non-basketball fans. Golden State certainly had its chances, but this wasn’t the same team that had steamrolled through the regular season. They were fragile, flawed, and vulnerable. They were beaten by a better team.

In the end, this was all about Cleveland.

James did this for that city, and for Akron, too, and all of the people who had been with him since he was just a teenager who was pretty good at basketball. They’d been with him from the beginning, and they watched his meteoric rise to the top of the sports world, maybe with just a hint of lament at the fact that he had left Cleveland to become an even bigger star in Miami.

As ESPN’s Rachel Nichols pointed out, whenever anyone would ask LeBron what his favorite city was, he’d always say Akron. Not Paris, not London, not Miami. James has a real connection with Akron because it raised him, and the people there know exactly where he came from.

LeBron won this championship for his hometown, his home state, his family, friends and acquaintances, his high school, and the kids in that region.

He won it for everybody he felt he had once let down.

This was LeBron’s greatest moment.

And you couldn’t help but feel happy for him.

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