Cristiano Ronaldo is set to lead Portugal in their first World Cup match against Spain on Friday, June 15. A day later, his longtime rival Lionel Messi will carry the weight of Argentine hopes as they face Iceland.
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy and the legendary Tiger Woods will be competing in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills in New York. Roger Federer and Serena Williams will be gearing up for Wimbledon. Lewis Hamilton might be celebrating a victory at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Nevertheless, the world’s greatest athlete will be hoping that his NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors will go to a sixth game.
LeBron James has single-handedly propelled his Cleveland Cavaliers team into a fourth consecutive showdown with Golden State for basketball’s ultimate prize, as the best-of-seven series kicks off on Thursday. This marks his eighth consecutive appearance in the league’s championship series.
LeBron James will capture the world’s attention as he leads the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
James is seen goofing around during Cleveland’s final practice session before their showdown with the mighty Warriors in Game 1 on Thursday.
James soars for a dunk over Boston’s Al Horford and Marcus Morris on his way to securing victory in the Eastern Conference finals.
His 6-foot-8 frame should be showing signs of decline as he competes in one of the world’s most physically demanding sports at the veteran age of 33. Instead, he has logged 3,678 minutes of basketball in this NBA season, over 400 more than anyone else in the division. Sunday’s series-deciding win against the Boston Celtics marked his 100th consecutive game of the season, the first time he has played in every single one. He played every single minute of a playoff game for the first time since he was 21, following an intensive recovery from a knee injury suffered in the previous game 48 hours earlier. And, once again, he was the best player on the court.
James’ supporting cast at the Cavaliers pales in comparison to the star-studded Warriors. They had one of the league’s weakest defensive records over the 82-game regular season and nearly overhauled their squad in January to support their star in reaching the Finals. James’ role for the Cavaliers is to orchestrate their entire offensive strategy and serve as the cornerstone of the defense.
There was a genuine concern that they might be humbled in the first playoff round by a talented Indiana Pacers team, but they managed to scrape through the seven-game series 4-3, largely thanks to James. He scored the first 13 points of Game 2, made a last-second three-pointer to win Game 5 with a score of 98-95, and led all scorers with 45 points in the Game 7 decider. Performances in the game’s critical moments are James’ trademark.
It marks the fourth consecutive meeting between the Warriors and the Cavaliers, with James facing off against Steph Curry in last year’s Finals.
Cleveland has only won once in these matchups, with James lifting the 2016 trophy, marking the city’s first major victory in any sport since 1964.
Despite winning championships with the Miami Heat and a famous 2016 title over the Warriors with his hometown Cleveland, some American sports pundits believe this is the best they’ve ever seen him play.
The only current debate surrounding James’ ability is whether he is now better than the universally acknowledged greatest of all time, Michael Jordan. Jordan’s fans point to his six championships with the Chicago Bulls compared to James’ three, but it’s essential to consider the differences in the strength of their teammates and the evolution of the NBA from Jordan’s heyday in the 1990s to the present day.
The game has become much faster, with James’ adversaries, the Warriors, revolutionizing the league in recent years by focusing on speed and long-range shooting rather than traditional big men in the paint. Nevertheless, James remains the star attraction.
In one area where James has certainly surpassed Jordan is in his influence off the court, particularly in the chaotic world of US politics. A frequent visitor to the White House during Barack Obama’s presidency, James made headlines with his anti-Donald Trump tweets, supporting Steph Curry’s decision to decline a White House visit to celebrate the previous season’s NBA title and calling Trump a “bum.” This tweet became the most retweeted comment by an athlete on the social media network in 2017.
LeBron James presented President Barack Obama with a signed basketball when he led his Miami Heat team during a White House visit in 2013.
In a more eloquent manner, he expressed his concern over Trump’s stance on his ‘Uninterrupted’ platform, stating: ‘The climate is hot. The number-one job in America, the appointed person, is someone who doesn’t understand the people and really doesn’t give a damn about the people.’
Faced with intense criticism from the right-wing media, he declined a Fox News presenter’s request to ‘shut up and dribble,’ asserting that his voice was too important not to be heard. Undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the country, he was correct.
James has been under this level of scrutiny from an early age. He was dubbed the ‘Chosen One’ by those in the know while still in high school in Akron, Ohio. He bypassed the traditional college route to enter the 2003 NBA draft. Naturally, he was selected as the first pick by his hometown team, the Cavaliers. Their first practice had to be moved from a private indoor facility to a small stadium to accommodate over 13,000 fans eager to catch a glimpse of the 18-year-old.
That same year, hundreds of Nike employees worked on one of the most important presentations in the company’s modern history – an effort to entice the young James away from Reebok and Adidas. He has since signed a lifetime partnership with Nike worth over $1 billion, much like the deal the company has with Jordan.
This deal is in addition to his various endorsements, including Coca-Cola, Beats by Dre, and Kia Motors. With his Cavaliers’ salary earning him $33 million, Forbes estimated his earnings for 2017 at $86 million.
This figure is likely to increase this summer. Although the Cavaliers are currently focused on their immediate goals, James will enter free agency with the NBA this summer.
If he chooses not to re-sign with his hometown team, which is a possibility if they perform poorly at this stage, he could sign with another franchise for a maximum $50 million per year. The Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, the New York Knicks, and nearly every other team are preparing their pitches.
He has matured significantly since his initial move from Cleveland to the Miami Heat in 2010, which was announced through an indulgent live TV event titled ‘The Decision.’ After returning to the Cavaliers in 2014, he has become the universally admired face of the game.
He won hearts once again when he embraced a young Boston Celtics fan with cerebral palsy who had a special version of James’ signature Nike sneakers made to play in a local basketball tournament. James spotted his story on the Celtics’ big screen and gave him his game-worn pair.
His personality and extraordinary talent are why everyone is eager to see how James performs in his latest challenge.
He will face a tough task, with bookmakers considering this the most one-sided of the four Cavaliers-Warriors series. Golden State boasts a triumvirate of the game’s top players in Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, with the best supporting cast in the game.
Cleveland, on the other hand, has mostly scraped through the season with a makeshift roster, heavily reliant on LeBron James.
However, with the best player on the court, possibly the best player in history, and the greatest current sports figure on the planet in their ranks, you can never completely count them out.
Securing a fourth championship this year would be considered the great man’s best-ever achievement. A victory in these Finals, though improbable, would stand as James’ most significant accomplishment in a career filled with them.