June 19, 2016. My dad and I huddle around his iPad in the South Padre Island hotel we’ve been vacationing in with the rest of our family. We sit in anticipation of a young king returning home to take back what was his. Wounded and outnumbered, we begin to fear he won’t get the victory he and his land need so badly. Just when all seems to be lost, adversaries rise to the occasion and help bring victory to the young king. We destroy our hands as we high-five the biggest high-five we’ve ever given each other as we watch Jon Snow beat the shit out of Ramsey Bolton. We’re watching Game of Thrones on HBO Go already on a high from watching LeBron James and the Cavaliers dethrone the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. This is the night I became a LeBron James fan.
To understand why this is a big deal, we have to flashback to the night of June 18, 2013. My San Antonio Spurs were up one game on the collective juggernaut known as the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, seconds away from taking their 5th title. Our beloved Tim Duncan was out of the game and our new prophet Kawhi was still on the rise but not quite near his superstar status. After a missed Kawhi free throw, up by three LeBron bricks a three-pointer. With no Timmy, Chris Bosh easily takes the rebound and dishes out to Ray friggin Allen wide open for a three in the corner. Money. Blowing a five point lead with just over a minute to go was devastating to the point that even though we still had overtime and a Game 7 left to go, I knew deep down in my heart, we missed our chance.
I was already upset with LeBron James for leaving Cleveland in the summer of 2010. It wasn’t because he left specifically, but how he left. The Decision was a shameless display of narcissism to which only redeeming quality was the raising of funds for The Boys and Girls Club. Even LeBron regrets it. I had admired LeBron for taking a team that could only be described as “a ragtag bunch of misfits” and had no business being in the playoffs to the NBA Finals in 2007. He elevated his team to a level so high that the minute he left, they came crashing down. LeBron made his teammates better and was great for the game going from the early aughts of isolation shoot first basketball led by the Kobes and AIs to a team dynamic that share the ball and succeed together mentality. He had already established this legacy pre-Miami, but The Decision completely undid all of that in my head.
Joining Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, LeBron ran through the NBA like the Bash Brothers from the Mighty Ducks until they ran into Rick Carlisle’s defensive schemes in the 2011 Finals. It was cathartic to watch the Heat lose that series even though it came at the cost of watching our rival Dallas Mavericks win their first championship. As if I didn’t have enough reason to hate on LeBron, the fact that he made me root for the Dallas Mavericks was the most unforgivable. Or so I thought.
Game 7 of the 2013 finals was the first time I cried after a Spurs loss since the 1995 Conference finals loss to the Houston Rockets. I worried I’d never see Timmy and Manu play again and to go out like that just wasn’t fair. LeBron wasn’t the only person to blame for that sorrow, but he was the face of it. In essence, that Finals loss only made the 2014 redemption that much sweeter. It mended the broken heart I had and solidified my favorite NBA team as the team that destroyed the Death Star, that was the Heatles, once and for all.
Despite all the satisfaction gained from watching the Spurs destroy the Heat, and despite watching LeBron humbly return to the Cavs to try to win one for the Land, I still didn’t feel any different about King James. Sure, my hater levels were essentially neutralized as Golden State rose to prominence and became the team to roll my eyes at when they sloshed through inferior teams, but I grew kind of indifferent of LeBron until that fateful night in South Padre.
I had decided that I was rooting for the Cavs when the series started. It did not matter to me who won in 2015, but I really wanted to see LeBron win one for Cleveland and that seemed futile when the Cavs went down 3-1. Some may say we’re in a simulation and reaching the point in that simulation where some off-the-wall shit is only mathematically bound to happen, but some time between notorious ball kicker Draymon Green getting suspended due to overdose of flagrant fouls and LeBron rejecting Andre Iguoadala’s easy layup in the 4th quarter of Game 7, I was all in with LeBron.
All the numbers just added up for me that night. I no longer looked at ESPN going on and on about LeBron and coming up with new benchmarks in a media overkill for this one dude. No I saw these things for what they were, a reason to talk about the greatest player in the league as much as possible. With so much exposure, its easy to get lose sight of greatness in the fast-paced news world. Flavors of the week are now flavors of the day. Kevin Durant downplays Shaq’s dominance by saying he was only dominant because he was big. Sure, people get tired of hearing about LeBron James on a daily basis, but the sad truth is there are people who don’t realize how great he is and how lucky we get to be to witness.
Now I know I’m coming off as the hardest of LeBron stans right now, but these are all just facts. There is no player in the league that can play all five positions the way he can. He has substantially improved every season he’s been in the league and shows no sign of regression. He lost his two best players in the 2015 playoff run and took the Warriors to 6 games. When they did win in 2016, he led ALL PLAYERS ON BOTH TEAMS IN ALL FIVE CATEGORIES OF STATS. We also have to reiterate that he led a team back from a 3-1 deficit against a team that just set the record for most wins in an NBA season. At 33 years old, he is playing in his 8th straight NBA Finals. The last time he missed the Finals, he was barely old enough to rent a car. Say what you will about the competition in the Eastern Conference, there’s no denying that it goes through whatever team LeBron is on.
Needless to say, at this point in his career, if you still doubt LeBron James’ ability, then it is purely based off of your dislike for him as a person and has nothing to do with his basketball skill. That’s fair enough. I was once like that too, but he’s won me over and continues to win me over not only with what he does on the court but what he does off the court. I’m not here to convince you that LeBron is a better basketball player than MJ, though it’s closer than it’s ever been and LeBron is showing no signs of slowing down. That’s for another article or two or three or ten. All I’m trying to say is that hating on LeBron is futile, he’s just going to continue to do things that no other player has ever done before, why not sit back and enjoy it while we can.
 Opting to pen a letter when he returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014.
 This was the night I like to tell people I went from being a fan of the Spurs to the Spurs forever being my team.
 Reading the wrong Best Picture at the Oscars, the Cubs winning the World Series, a team coming back down 3-1 in the Finals.
 For the record, Iggy is one of my favorite non-Spurs players, I wanted him to be a Spur so bad when he left Philly.
 “Youngest player with a receding hairline to score 40 points in a game”