There were no NBA titles yet. No MVP trophies. No scoring titles. But In 2007, we all knew greatness was coming. LeBron James was going to achieve the kind of greatness that lives for generations. His incredible all-around game was maturing, resulting in season averages of 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists.
In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit he had one of the greatest playoff games ever. He scored 29 of the Cav’s last 30 points including the game-winning lay-up with 2 seconds left on his way to a 48 point, 9 rebound, 7 assist performance. LeBron was developing into a better one-man show than Jordan was. He even led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals that year. I’ll say that again because even today, I think we take that for granted. LeBron James single-handedly took a lottery team to the NBA Finals.
Greatness was coming. And Nike knew it. As LeBron was about to make the first Finals appearance of his career, they dubbed basketball fans around the world, “witnesses”.
It was genius. No one was a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not even people living in Cleveland. Ask anyone from Ohio if they rooted for the Cavs in the dark days before LeBron. Even so, as LeBron & Co. were about to face the San Antonio Spurs, a majority of the world was rooting for James to win a title. We didn’t care what team he was on. We really didn’t care who his teammates were. We were fans of LeBron and we wanted to witness the individual greatness become a reality in a team sport.
The problem was, we didn’t want to become bandwagon fans of the Cavs in the process. We didn’t want to disown the teams we really loved who had previously been eliminated. We just loved the game and wanted to see its brightest star succeed. Being a witness, and not a fan, solved everything.
So I was shocked that 6 years later, we’re not taking advantage of one of the greatest gifts ever given to sports fans. My team had already been knocked out of the playoffs. But I love basketball. There’s no way I’m not going to stop watching just because my team is out. I want to see history be shaped live. So I head to a bar after work to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals. As a fan of neither the Spurs or Heat, it was nice to enjoy a good series without investing any personal emotion. I could just sit back and witness LeBron either add another notch to his belt or put up an incredible performance in a losing effort. And I naturally assumed everyone else was going to do the same since we’re in the Bay Area. What I found was quite the opposite.
The bar was full of loud, passionate and invested fans. Either rooting for the Spurs and against the Heat, or for the Heat and against the Spurs. I was part of a small group applauding every good play, regardless of who made it. And I had to ask myself, “Who are these people?”
Are these people really Spurs fans? Are they originally from Texas? They’re eating healthy food so probably not. Do they just hate LeBron? Do they just hate the Heat? They seem pretty upset.
And who are those people over there? Are they from Miami? They’re not dressed head-to-toe in linen. They are pretty douchey though. Are they just bandwagon hoppers?
Or worse, are they all really local Warrior fans who have temporarily sold their basketball soul to another team? How could they justify that? How could they live with themselves?
As a great game came to an end and LeBron & Co. 2.0 emerged victorious, the mysterious history of these “fans” got really annoying. None of them seemed to appreciate that we just witnessed greatness.
Magic Johnson couldn’t have said it better when he told a national TV audience that we have to acknowledge greatness when it’s right in front of us.
He was spot on. We need to stop hating LeBron. He’s earned at least that. You can still be a fan of the Spurs, Celtics, Warriors, Cavs, or whoever your team is, and still tune in and witness the best thing we’ve had since Jordan. Sorry Kobe.
Whether you agree with it or not, the state of amateur sports and sports media has allowed us to watch the development of James’s life and career. We saw LeBron as a 15 year old phenom. We saw him magically exceed the rookie hype. We saw him grow and excel. We saw him get swept by the Spurs as an underdog. We saw him win two gold medals and four MVP trophies. We saw him win his first title. And we just saw him get vengeance for the 2007 sweep.
At some point, we all need to recognize that LeBron is truly great. He’s once-in-a-generation special. Our kids and grandkids will ask us if we ever got the chance to see him play live. And there’s nothing wrong with looking them in the eyes and telling them that you were proud to witness the whole thing.