Like it or not, we’re living in the age of LeBron.
Historic championship comebacks, through-the-roof TV ratings, sad sports cities turned into Happyville. LeBron James can apparently do it all.
And now after liberating Cleveland, there were reports Monday that James would sit out the Olympics and a chance to win a third gold medal with Team USA.
James, 31, can probably use the rest. After all, he freed Cleveland from its 52-year sports jinx.
He exhibited just about everything against Golden State during the 18-day run of the NBA Finals.
He disrespected Draymond Green by callously stepping over him after knocking him down in Game 4, an incident that actually gave Cleveland hope when Green was suspended for Game 5 because of a retaliatory punch to James’ groin.
James glowered at Curry after blocking his shot ferociously in Games 6 and 7.
And yet he exhibited forgiveness after the Cavaliers became the first team in Finals history to rally successfully from a 3-1 deficit.
James surely remembered the TV images of his jersey burned by fans when he left for Miami in 2010, but called it part of “yesterday’s newspaper” when asked about it Sunday.
He grew up in nearby Akron, was drafted by Cleveland, bolted to win two championships with Miami and then returned two years ago with unlimited potential for seldom-seen sports redemption.
“I came back for a reason. I came back to bring a championship to our city,” he said. “I knew what I learned in the last couple years that I was gone. When I came back, I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get back to a place that we’ve never been.”
He was the unanimous Finals MVP. No one else approached his off-the-charts numbers. In the last three games alone, he averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, three blocked shots and three steals.
Through it all, James remains a tough personality to define. He’s not as warm and fuzzy as Curry though not as Draconian as the deathly serious Kobe Bryant.
On one hand, he jabbed a reporter in the aftermath of Game 7 for “harping on” the James-better-deliver-to-Cleveland theme the last few weeks.
On the other hand, he demonstrated knowledge of his home state’s woes, recounting Earnest Byner’s fumble, John Elway’s 98-yard drive and Jose Mesa’s failure to close out the bottom of the ninth in the 1997 World Series.
James also pointed the finger at himself for getting swept by San Antonio in the 2007 NBA Finals and losing in six games last year to Golden State.
The only mistake he made was calling Elway’s drive 99 yards.
He vacillated between tears and smiles in the first hour after Game 7, and it all made sense.
He wasn’t the only one crying tears of joy: Game 7 was the highest-rated NBA game ever on ABC, drawing an 18.9 overnight rating, according to Nielsen.
“Throughout my 13-year career, I’ve done nothing but be true to the game, give everything I’ve got to the game — put my heart, my blood, sweat, tears into the game — and people still want to doubt what I’m capable of doing,” James said. “So that was a little icing on the cake for myself.”
Cleveland has some off-season work to do. J.R. Smith will be a free agent and locking up James to a long-term contract would be ideal, but he seems happy to go year-to-year.
Oddsmakers have already established Golden State, not Cleveland, as slight championship favorites next season.
James will shrug his broad shoulders again.
“I can’t wait to get off that plane and hold that trophy up and see all our fans at the terminal … and I know they’re going to be ready,” James said before the Cavaliers headed home Sunday. “So I can’t wait to give the emotion back to them.”