LeBron James earned one of the most satisfying championships in NBA history.
He returned to his hometown Cavaliers, overcame a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, conquered the 73-win Warriors and ended Cleveland’s multi-decade title drought. This was total vindication for LeBron. He accomplished so many things people deemed impossible – escaping that series hole, beating such a great team and, maybe most incredibly, getting Cavs fans to love him after The Decision.
How would LeBron follow that performance?
Former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin looks back with concern and feeds into a common perception.
James’ contagious hunger to deliver a championship for Northeast Ohio dissipated. “There wasn’t a lot else for him,” Griffin says. “I don’t think he’s the same animal anymore about winning.” Many in the NBA now suggest James harbors two priorities: enduring to team with his eldest son, Bronny, and one day owning a franchise.
This is unfair to LeBron.
But LeBron carried a weak supporting cast back to the Finals the very next year. He was awesome in Game 1. He looked totally consumed by trying to win… until J.R. Smith’s gaffe. LeBron lost it, punched a whiteboard and still made a case for Finals MVP.
Was he as hungry to win another title? No. Practically no players match the desire that consumes them in pursuit of their first title. LeBron found a way to do it after winning two with the Heat by raising the stakes with his return to Cleveland. But there was no easy way to summon that passion for a fourth title.
After that, LeBron left for the Lakers. At this point, there’s far more reason to question his devotion to winning.
LeBron still talks big about prioritizing basketball. But his actions and people close to him suggest otherwise.
Dwyane Wade said the move was about lifestyle. Even Rich Paul didn’t emphasize winning when explaining LeBron’s decision. It seems LeBron cares about living in Los Angeles and the proximity to Hollywood.
Yet, all that talk about LeBron playing more off the ball last season quickly dissipated. When games got going, his competitiveness took over. He took on the burden of trying to carry the team.
It was a predictable outcome, exposing the foolishness of the Lakers building a team of players who need the ball.
LeBron is too old to put full effort into the regular season. He sometimes puts himself on too high of a pedestal to do the little things helpful to winning. He might have even thought going to Los Angeles would mean a new emphasis in his life.
But as another season nears, expect LeBron to once again find a voracity for trying to win.