LeBron James provides perfect finisher after Stephen Curry makes All-Star history
Perfection presented itself to a player who has forever flirted with it.
LeBron James, the kid from Akron, stood on the right block less than 40 miles from the apartment he grew up in with his mother, Gloria. She was watching. Michael Jordan, the man who inspired James as a young child, had embraced him earlier in the night.
His team needed one basket to win, and James spun back and shot a high-arcing fadeaway over a double team that arrived just a second late. The ball went through the basket, the crowd, including his closest friends, washed totally over in another signature sequence.
Team LeBron defeated Team Durant 163-160 Sunday in Cleveland, James authoring the flawless final sentences of an All-Star weekend that he unsurprisingly dominated.
In Ohio for the NBA All-Star game, the Los Angeles Laker is his hometown’s biggest booster — and quietly setting himself up to be its biggest savior.
The Kobe Bryant Trophy, presented to the game’s most valuable player, left with Stephen Curry. He made a record 16 threes, obliterating Paul George’s previous record of nine. And his 50 points were two shy of Anthony Davis’ All-Star record.
But the final moment, the ball in James’ hand, was too perfect — the most important people in his life, from his family to his closest friends in the building.
“I could not have dreamed of that moment any better,” James said.
The start of the night, for James, was perfect too.
He stared at the banner he won with the Cavaliers that hangs in their building’s rafters while he was introduced as an All-Star for the 18th time. And as the crowd’s roars only grew stronger, James looked to the sky and howled.
With a massive smile, he said, “Let’s go.”
It was as happy as he’s looked all year.
“How much more can a man ask for really when you have an opportunity to live this moment with everybody that has seen you come up?” James said with a relaxed smile.
In his 19th season, James has been tested in ways he couldn’t have imagined. He’s suffered injuries, signs of his age starting to knock him off the court for longer, more frequent stretches. After solving star pairings throughout his career, James and the Lakers have been unable to integrate Russell Westbrook, a source of frustration for everyone involved.
LeBron James’ impact on Akron, Ohio, stretches across the city, including St. Vincent-St. Mary High, where he inspires future basketball stars.
And through it all, James is still playing some of his best basketball. He’s scored at least 25 points in each of his last 23 games. But for the first time since his first seasons in the league, his greatness hasn’t been great enough, the Lakers stuck in the bottom of the league’s play-in tournament.
A year ago, James said whoever came up with the play-in tournament needed to be “fired.” Now, it’s the safety net keeping the team from falling completely out of the postseason.
With the Lakers unable to improve their roster at the trade deadline earlier this month, his comments Saturday during his media session and in an interview with the Athletic were dissected and examined for hints of unhappiness.
First, when asked about Thunder rookie Josh Giddey, he heaped praise on Oklahoma City executive Sam Presti. Later in an interview with the Athletic, James said the door to return to Cleveland for a third stint isn’t “closed,” and that he’d do whatever he could to play his final seasons with his eldest son Bronny.
The future, though, could wait on Sunday, James moving through a night where his wildest childhood dreams came true.
Twenty-five years ago, the top 50 players of all time were honored over All-Star weekend in Cleveland. James was 12 when that happened, living with a single mother in an apartment in Akron. Sunday, he stood on stage with many of the top 75 players ever — receiving one of the loudest cheers along with Jordan and a remembrance of Bryant.
“It would be like going to your favorite musician’s concert in the greatest stadium,” James said, “and you are literally on stage with them while they’re performing, and the sense of ‘I can’t believe that I’m here.’ That’s the best way that I can put it.”
He and Jordan even shared a moment together, a rarity for the players most consider to be the two greatest ever.
In this excerpt from “The Rise,” Kobe Bryant, newly a teen, has his first glimpse into his basketball destiny when he was introduced to Michael Jordan.
“I did not want to lose the opportunity to shake the man’s hand that inspired me throughout my childhood. I haven’t had much dialogue with him in my 20 years or 19 years in this business, but part of me wouldn’t be here without MJ’s inspiration,” James said. “I always wanted to be like him growing up. … I didn’t want to waste that opportunity because we’re just not in — we’re not in the same building a lot and haven’t been in the same building a lot throughout my career. It meant something to me.”
Carmelo Anthony, Kawhi Leonard, Jerry West, Chris Paul, Bob McAdoo, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were among the players who attended. Westbrook and Davis were elected onto the top 75 list but didn’t attend.
Vanessa Bryant appeared to honor her husband. Earlier in the game, she presented Paul with the inaugural Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award.
Curry was magical. He also was honored as one of the NBA’s top 75 at halftime, showing that he might be one of basketball’s biggest ever revolutionaries. Curry drained a record 16 threes — nine more than the previous All-Star record — getting so hot that he took a shot from behind the three-point line with a straight face.
“That guy is from a different planet,” James said.
As he spoke after the game, his closest childhood friends milled around in the back of the room, listening to James try and describe a night that meant so much to him — the words mostly escaping him.
“I hope I’ll never forget this moment,” he said.
It was just too perfect.
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