Very few people have come into the NBA as the first overall pick of the draft and were able to live up to the hype which is something that Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James was able to do. James was the first overall pick of the Cavaliers in 2003 as he made the jump to the NBA straight from high school. James averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds en route to being named as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. By James’ third season in the NBA, he averaged 31.4 points per game to go along with 7 rebounds and 6.6 assists, and by year four he had the Cavs in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. What was so remarkable about Cleveland’s run to the NBA Finals in 2007 was that James had little to no support from the players around him which is unheard of for a superstar player in any league.
James took the Cavaliers as far as he could, and once he realized that he could not win a championship in Cleveland, he left to join the Miami Heat in 2010. In four seasons with the Heat, James was able to take his game to the next level as he won the first two NBA Championships of his career. In 2014, James would return to Cleveland which culminated in him leading the Cavaliers to their first NBA Championship in franchise history in 2016.
In all James has appeared in each of the last seven NBA Finals and there is a good possibility of him making an eighth consecutive trip this coming June. James is in his 15th NBA season and he is not showing any signs of slowing down. James will be 33-years of age at the end of this month and he is still producing at an MVP caliber rate. On the season James is averaging 28.2 points, 9 assists, and 8.2 rebounds. With James leading the way, the Cavaliers are currently 21-8 which is the second best record in the Eastern Conference. But have we as well as the majority of the basketball establishment taken what James is doing for granted?
James is a four-time NBA MVP and he could have actually taken home the award in each of the last four years as well. Recently James has been denied the award due to the supreme scoring ability of small forward Kevin Durant, the three-point shooting of Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry, and Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook averaging a triple-double last season.
James is not the first superstar that this has happened to as during the 1960’s centers Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell were so good that they were battling each other every year for the NBA Championship as well as being the league’s MVP. The same thing occurred in the 1980’s with small forward Larry Bird and point guard Magic Johnson, while both shooting guards Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant raised the bar so high during their respective careers that their greatness was simply expected. And like other greats before him, James is changing the game.
Prior to James coming to the NBA, the league never saw a player that is 6’8″, 260 lbs., who can move like him. At 6’9″, Johnson was a tremendous point guard who excelled at passing, but he did not have the strength or speed of James. Even at 33, James still has tremendous explosion off of his first step to get to the basket , while his perimeter scoring has increased as his career has gone along. This season James is shooting 42% from behind the three-point line which is a career high.
James is always in peek physical condition, but at some point the other shoe must drop as far as him breaking down. James led the NBA in minutes last season at 37.8 per game, and so far this year he’s averaging 37.2 per contest. Since last season Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue has talked about monitoring James’ minutes in order to keep him fresh for the playoffs, but every time you watch Cleveland play, LeBron hardly gets a breather on the sideline.
At some point the wear and tear of seven (possibly eight) consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, three Summer Olympics appearances for the United States, as well as being the face of the league will catch up with James. But until then it’s just a matter of sitting back and us watching the spectacle that he is happen.
The Cavaliers didn’t fully appreciate James until he left as they quickly once became one of the worst teams in the NBA which gives you an idea about his impact. James is set to become a free agent next summer as contending teams will be lining up for his services as he has changed the aspect of free agency in the NBA. Before James, superstar players in the NBA were not bouncing around from team-to-team in order to win titles as this has become the latest fad in the NBA.
The NBA has never seen a player like James before and it’ll be a long time before another one comes down the pike.