The world has come to an end!
The Boston Celtics have just defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the biggest game in the history of professional basketball! Well, maybe not. Maybe it’s only the most important (or perhaps painful) game in Cleveland’s franchise history. But it will nonetheless hold far-reaching implications for players and franchises across the league.
The consensus has always been that it was highly unlikely that James would leave Cleveland this summer. But I, like most many others, have always felt that if the Cavaliers don’t win the NBA championship, LeBron was as good as gone. So naturally one can understand the magnitude of the moment.
The next 55 days will now be filled with the kind of rampant over-speculation fit only for a king.
In Cleveland, there is nothing but dread. Losing James will be nothing short of catastrophic for a team that no longer has the flexibility with which to rebuild and for a city whose sports curse is perhaps the heaviest of active burdens in the country.
Elsewhere, as many as a third of the league’s owners and general managers are quietly pumping their fists while pacing across their living room floors. The impossible task of landing the NBA’s greatest ever free agent prize just got one step – one large step – easier. Hopes and prayers, as ridiculous as they may be in certain cases, are still alive.
The anticipation will be nearly unbearable.
At the same time, LeBron’s performance will be carefully and painfully scrutinized. His seven-year career, one in which he has established himself as the game’s best, will continue to be called into question. The media will continue to suggest his legacy has been permanently tarnished. Conspiracy theorists will continue to suggest he threw one or more of the series’ games in order to make his impending exit that much more justified. It’s kind of a rough deal that a man who’s done so much for the game of basketball can’t hit a rough spot without suffering such ridiculous character assaults and total invalidation of sustained and unparalleled greatness.
In a season that started with such promise, there was certainly nothing magical about the Cavs’ seemingly uninspired exit. It wasn’t holding the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, as so many felt was the only acceptable end. It wasn’t fighting the Lakers in the NBA Finals for the rights to it. Rather, it was all the way back in the second round, against a team widely considered too old to compete – a team the Cavs were supposed to squash into irrelevancy. And the responsibility, whether justified or not, will be placed squarely on the shoulders of LeBron James.
And so it begins.