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In what may ultimately prove to be the greatest achievement of an already storied career, James led Cleveland back from the brink of defeat to the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history on Sunday.
For James, who returned to Cleveland in 2014 after spending the previous four years with the Miami Heat, the win gave him his third NBA championship and fulfilled a promise to deliver a title to his home state of Ohio.
To capture the against-all-odds championship, James had to steer the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 Finals deficit. In each of the 32 prior instances, the team facing such a deficit had lost the Finals and only two forced a Game Seven.
“I don’t know why the man above give me the hardest road, but … the man above don’t put you in situations that you can’t handle,” said James.
“I just kept that same positive attitude. Instead of saying why me, I said this is what He wants me to do. And, uh, Cleveland — this is for you!”
When the final buzzer sounded in Oakland, it kicked off a wave of celebrations in Cleveland, where countless Cavaliers supporters were sporting James’s No. 23 jersey.
It was a far cry from 2010 when James spurned his home state for Miami in an ill-advised television special that skewed his public image and saw Cavaliers fans burn his replica jerseys in the Cleveland streets.
While some fans did not forgive James when he announced two years ago that he was “coming home,” his ability to deliver the city its first pro sports championship since the 1964 Cleveland Browns of the National Football League may surely win them over.
Winning a title for his hometown team proved an emotional moment for LeBron, who dropped to the floor at the final buzzer and was left with tears rolling down his face as he cradled the glittering Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
“What’s going through my mind is I’m ready to get back to Cleveland. I can’t wait to get off that plane and hold that trophy up and see all our fans at the terminal,” said James.
“And I know they’re going to be ready. So I can’t wait to give the emotion back to them. I’m looking forward to it. That’s all.”
James was voted the unanimous winner of the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award after averaging 29.7 points per game, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists in the best-of-seven championship series.
It marked his third Finals MVP award, as he also took the award in 2012 and 2013 with Miami, and put him in select company with Michael Jordan (six), Shaquille O’Neal (three), Tim Duncan (three) and Magic Johnson (three) as the only players who have won at least three Finals MVP awards.
“Right now it’s just excitement. It’s not even relief,” said James. “It’s just excitement for us as a team, as a franchise, as a city, as a community.
“To be able to continue to build up our city, to continue to be an inspiration to our city, it means everything. I’m happy to be a part of it.”