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15 Years: A Witnesses Story (Part I)

Amazing, rare, bizarre, fantastic, unprecedented, exceptional, marvelous, outstanding, unimaginable, phenomenal, remarkable, singular, un-heard of, unique – – All of which are synonymous with LeBron James.

I was nine the first time I a witnessed the ‘Chosen One’ take flight at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.

And even though the only connection I have with Lebron is the love of basketball, I have always felt emotionally connected to his legacy.

I wasn’t a fan of the high school he attended in St. Vincent-St.Mary’s out of Akron, Ohio, but lord knows I was a big fan (like the rest of the state of Ohio) of LeBron James.

He made the game look almost completely effortless, which most great players do; scoring like Jordan, racking up steals like Stockton, putting down blast-from-the-past slams like Dr.J, rebounding like a young Barkley, oh, and dropping dimes like Magic.

Basically, he was just being LeBron.

The nation truly began to realize the spectacle of LeBron in 2002. He single handily began selling out high school and college arenas across the country, and I remember one particular moment when LeBron’s Fighting Irish played the best prep school in the country in Carmelo Antony’s Oak Hill Academy on national television. That night in Cleveland is when LeBron met Kobe for the first time, and Kobe gifted LeBron with a pair of his American Flag themed signature shoes that he wore in that game.

Six years later all three of the superstars would be suiting up for the Red, White, and Blue together.

The 3x Mr.Basketball in Ohio was completely majestic in high school, and to this day was the best prospect EVER to make the leap from High School to the NBA

LeBron flew through the 2002-2003 averaging 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game, while sweeping every major high school award, and declaring himself eligible for 2003 NBA Draft.

LeBron is still known as ‘the most hyped basketball player ever’ entering the NBA Draft.

chosen 15 Years: A Witnesses Story (Part I)

In the meantime, the Cleveland Cavaliers were tanking, hard, for the opportunity of securing enough ping pong balls to keep the biggest talent in decades at home. They did just that finishing the regular season 17-65, where they grasped the ultimate golden ticket to NBA relevancy in one LeBron James.

Throw in a $90 Million contract with Nike, before ever playing an NBA game, and the ‘King’ was born.

I was the proud owner of a fresh Reebok LeBron James jersey the day before he got drafted after calling 10 different retailers looking to pre-order one of his jerseys (shout out Finish Line) because the whole basketball world knew one thing for certain – – LeBron James would be draped in wine and gold for years to come.

2003-04′ “Hi, I’m LeBron”

October 29th, 2003 – – LeBron’s first game at Sacramento; 42 minutes, 25 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals.

Weird this game resembles his career averages, and certainly was a crystal ball game for NBA fans around the league – – there’s a new kid in town, and he’s pretty damn good.

LeBron accomplishments in Rookie season:

  • Averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game
  • Rookie of the Year
  • Youngest player in league history to score at least 40 points in a game (41 against the Nets)
  • Joined Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in their rookie year
  • The Cavaliers improved by 18 wins

No playoffs for the Cavaliers in 2003-04′, but it was certainly on the horizon.

2004-2008 seemed like a blur of greatness in LeBron’s rise to stardom in the NBA.

****Fun Fact: LeBron mentioned Paul Silas was the best coach he ever had that season. Still not sure if it was a joke.

2004-2005 “The Leap”

After putting up a dazzling rookie campaign, LeBron really began to unleash his true talent on the NBA. Messed around and averaged 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 2.2 steals per game.

At the age of 20.

LeBron knew the whole basketball world was watching him, and being the great performer that he is – – always came through with sensational performances. Do you like out-of-this-world gravity defying dunks? He brought that. Chase down blocks like a cheetah chasing its pray? Yup, Bron never left the court hungry. Kill teams with his athleticism, only to stick the dagger through their hearts with his passing and jumper? Better believe it.

This is the year ‘comparisons’ began to rise to the surface. It wasn’t the ‘BIG’ comparison to Michael Jordan, but that was coming. No, this comparison was to Kobe, who just got done hoisting up three straight NBA championships, and the clock began to run on LeBron when he would get some bling (2004 terminology) himself.

This season held some memorable firsts for LeBron:

  • Bronze Medal in 2004 Olympics
  • First All-Star game
  • ‘First’** signature shoe drop ‘The LeBron II’   **His rookie season was the Air Zoom Generation
  • Second Team All-NBA

2005-2006 “I’m here to stay”

By this point I was never missing a game, unless, my own basketball games got in the way. My philosophy in Junior High was that girls could wait, why spend my time talking to girls and going to dances when I could watch LeBron nightly and try to emulate his every move in my drive way known as Court Kool-Aid.

Because as everyone should know, Ball Is Life.

LeBron at the ripe age of 21 was already a Top-5 player in the NBA, and his numbers backed up that notion 100%. So who did the Cavaliers choose to coach the young King and take the team to the next level? Mike Brown. But wait, there’sssssss more! The organization goes out and signs Larry Hughes**. NBA FINALS HERE WE COME.

**Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eric Snow, and Donyell Marshall all had more lucrative contracts than LeBron that season.

I have no ill feelings towards Mike Brown, but if I never saw or heard his name again I would be okay with it, I mean, I am a two time survivor of the Mike Brown experience.

Regardless, LeBron’s year looked like this:

  • Averaged 31.4 points, 7 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.6 steals
  • First 50 win season for the Cavaliers under LBJ
  • All-Star game MVP
  • First Team All-NBA

Lamentably for LeBron, he had to go against a very good Detroit Pistons team. Eventually getting the boot in the second round losing a close Game-7 at the Palace.

**This is also the season that the LeBron III’s dropped, and in my opinion LeBron’s best signature shoe to date.

2006-2008 “The Climb”        

The two seasons that really showed what LeBron’s true imprint on the game of basketball would be for years to come.

Even though he was already one of the NBA’s best players at the age of 21, these two seasons were defined by how much impact he could have on any game with how little he had to work with on the court.

2006-07′ Starting Lineup                               2007-08′ Starting Lineup

PG – Larry Hughes                                           PG – Delonte West

SG – Sasha Pavlovic                                         SG – Devin Brown

SF – LeBron James                                          SF – LeBron James

PF – Drew Gooden                                           PF- Ben Wallace

C – Zydrunas Ilgauskas                                   C – Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Let’s start with the Eastern Conference champion 2006-07′ squad.

You have to watch the best basketball commercials in “The LeBron’s” to understand what was on the horizon for LBJ. Because Nike knew two things before everyone else did; First, LeBron COULD get through Detroit trainin’ in a pool, and LeBron don’t do no dunk contests.

Now, let’s take a step back and check out the 2006-07′ starting lineup that featured only two names that Cavalier fans have real love towards, one is Bron and the other is one of the most under-rated bigs in the game (even though he was an All-Star that season) at that time in Zydrunas “Z” Ilgauskas.

*** The 216 also has mad love for Anderson Varejao, but currently he is the enemy.

Coming off the bench was the sharp shooter from the University of Texas Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and the beloved Brazilian Anderson Varejao. Essentially, the Cavaliers front office surrounded LeBron with players who came from Misfit island, but damn did I love this team.

LeBron had a great year averaging 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.6 steals. Statistically, it looks like he took a step back; watching him play though showed clearly he was moving forward with his progression as not only an elite scorer, but as a top notch distributor as well.

Then the ultimate playoff roller-coaster ride began.

I’m going to focus on the positives, which there were plenty, but the final result doesn’t add up to how far LeBron carried this team. First positive, the Cavs playoff beards were gnarly and in prime mid-season form, easily one of the best playoff beard teams of my generation. Second, and the only time I’ll ever admit the Mike Brown Iso ‘offense’ worked (Thanks Bron). Third, the Cavs got to beat up on teams they didn’t like all through the Eastern Conference playoffs in Washington, New Jersey, and those dastardly Detroit Pistons.

One game in particular speaks volumes to how far LeBron’s game had matured since joining the NBA – – Game 5, Eastern Conference Finals in Detroit. I consider it the ‘This is LeBron’s Palace’ game. The game was tantalizingly close coming down the stretch in the fourth quarter – – and then just like that, we all became ‘Witnesses’. LeBron poured in 48 points along with the Cavaliers final 25 points from every spot on the court pulling out the game in overtime.

My summary doesn’t do it justice, you MUST watch the highlights to truly understand the greatness that left basketball fans collectively screaming, “PLEASE SIR, WE WANT MORE.”

Only to get swept in four game by the San Antonio Spurs. Yes, the Cavaliers were outplayed at four of the positions over four games and the result was ugly. But hey, it sure was a fun ride right? The only issue, Cavalier fans and NBA fans alike had a taste of LeBron going deep into the playoffs, a taste that wouldn’t easily go away.

Onto the 2007-08′ team.

Realistically, this was a bad season for Cavalier fans. The team was good, just no where near good enough to stack up with the elite teams in the NBA. So, in typical Cavalier front office fashion, they hand LeBron an old Ben Wallace (biggest front office trend) at the trade deadline and say, “Go get em’ Bron.”

This team had a lot of ups-and-downs only to unfortunately meet up with that seasons NBA champions in the new look Boston Celtics, who just acquired two legit superstars in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen – – completing the first ‘Big 3’ of my generation plus a young Rajon Rondo.

The Eastern Conference semi-final series was a complete slug fest, going the full seven games. LeBron led both teams in scoring six of the seven games and dropped 45 in game seven, personally a game I remember as LeBron vs Paul Pierce AKA “The Truth,” going bucket for bucket down the stretch.

What people don’t remember, the Cavs bench gave them a whooping 21 points off the bench, and their best player off the pine was former number one overall pick Joe Smith.

LeBron finished the season averaging 30 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.84 steals. Another big step in the right direction, but a serious lack of talent/depth were the biggest factors for this seasons failures. Seriously, who would’ve thought Wally Szczerbiak wasn’t the off-season piece to make this team whole?

Unfortunately, this was the year I really began to fathom the possibility of LeBron leaving.

He just finished his fifth season for an organization that loved him, but was unwilling to surround him with high caliber players. This also brought up major red flag questions that would be asked a million times down the road, were good players intimidated by LeBron? (Historically, yes, the Cavs lost Carlos Boozer and Darius Miles almost immediately after his arrival). Also, were players unwilling to take the chance of going to Cleveland because it was Cleveland and not Southern California or Miami? Because if previous seasons didn’t say it loud enough, this season made it quite clear – – LeBron can’t do this alone.

No rings, but a lot happened in these two seasons:

  • 2007 Second Team All-NBA
  • 2008 First Team All- NBA
  • 2x NBA All-Star (MVP in 2008)
  • 2008 NBA Scoring Champion
  • 2008 Olympic Gold Medal
  • First trip to the NBA Finals in 2007
  • Became youngest player to score 10,000 points at age 23 years, 59 days old, surpassing Kobe Bryant’s previous record of 24 years, 193 days old.
  • In 2008 became Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer, doing so in over 100 less games than Brad Daugherty. 
  • In 2008 posted seven triple-doubles to finish the season, LeBron set a new personal and team record for triple-doubles in a season.

2008-2010 “Mr.MVP”

Just like when Drake lyrically killed off Meek Millz, LeBron went Back-to-Back on the league like Lethal Weapon, but I wish it was more like 96-97′.

Personally, the only way I can describe these two years as a LeBron fan, “What the F*&$ just happened.”

The 2008-09′ season was like reading a chapter of a sport fans fairy tale, but unlike most fairy tales the ending to this story was disheartening and sad . LeBron had his best season to date at that point averaging 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.7 steals. More importantly he led the same Cavaliers team from the previous season + Mo Williams to a 66-16 record, clinching the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.

In conclusion, a MVP was born.

CLEVELAND - MAY 05: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers receives 2008-2009 MVP trophy from NBA Commissioner David Stern prior to playing the Atlanta Hawks in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 5, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

In what was a fascinating season stuffed full of highlight play after highlight play, there was still something missing when the final buzzer sounded to end the season.

No matter how many; 30 point games, chase down blocks or thundering slams LeBron gave us – – it just wasn’t enough. Cleveland NEEDED the ring, and not because it was ‘their time’ to win one, but because we watched a young man put a city on his back and HE deserved it.

Parents always emphasize to their kids, “If you work hard enough good things will come,” and, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Well, LeBron was the combination of extraordinary talent and blue collar work ethic, except; a room full of individual trophies and truck loads of money couldn’t buy what he sought after most – – basketball immortality as a champion.

Obviously, the season was invigorating; the Cavaliers were the one-seed in a very competitive Eastern Conference (I can’t believe this used to be a real sentence), they had the best home record in the NBA, and they just so happened to have the leagues MVP as their ring leader.

This was the year…

The world would get what it wanted in a LeBron vs Kobe NBA Finals.

Cleveland fans had a chance to flood Euclid Avenue with championship level joy for the first time since 1964.

Instead, Cleveland, Ohio, and every LeBron fan got Charlie Browned so damn hard by Stan Van Gundy’s Orlando Magic.

The Cavaliers only had to play one of the two between Boston and Orlando. I personally was pleasantly surprised that Orlando stuck it out against Boston in seven games and thought surely this was LeBron’s year to hoist the Larry O’ Brian trophy over his head.

Nope, Orlando unleashed the threes on Cleveland, and to make matters worse, Orlando had the Defensive Player of the Year in Dwight Howard patiently awaiting Lebron every time he came attacking the rim. Not a good combo when your only offense is to Iso LeBron and attack, praying if he dished it out someday could knock down a shot, but rarely was that the case.

Orlando ended up losing in the Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. Thus, giving Kobe another ring to add to his collection, and making the comparison for LeBron that much harder for the King to live up to.

But, the mystery of the missing teammates that had haunted LeBron in previous years was no longer something that could be brushed under the rug, changes needed to be made or else Cleveland could lose the most influential athlete of a generation.

But hey, there is always next year. A phrase that ALL Cleveland sports fans have become all too familiar with.

Then there was the next year, 2009-10′.

For starters Nike was still putting out the best commercials when they dropped ‘The MVP’s’ featuring LeBron and Kobe as puppets living together. Part of me still wishes it was LeBron who lost his three championship rings, only to find them in his championship ring case.

Anyway, the 2009-10′ season was like reading a chapter of a sport fans fairy tale, but unlike most fairy tales the ending to this story was disheartening and sad. LeBron had his best season to date at that point averaging 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, and 1.6 steals. More importantly he led the same Cavaliers team + Shaquille O’Neal to a 61-21 record, clinching the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.

Oh, and LeBron locked up his second MVP to go Back-to-Back.

AKRON, OH - MAY 2: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait prior to winning his second Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the 2009-10 NBA Most Valuable Player presented by Kia Motors on May 2, 2010 at James A Rhodes Arena on the University of Akron campus in Akron, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2010 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo Getty Images)

Wait, S**t, it’s the same story as the 2008-09′ season.

But, But…

Finally, we could’ve had the chance to watch LeBron and Shaq clash with Kobe to see a NBA finals where the top two players in the NBA were in contention for the NBA championship.

I mean, I envisioned it just like the end of The Grinch; Cleveland fans around the world can collectively come together, forget all the awful things that happened in the past, join hand-to-hand while singing Cleveland Rocks, and the sports Grinch gives Cleveland back all the gifts (championships) that were taken in awful manner from previous years.

Seriously, this was one of the funnest teams I have ever had the honor to watch live. Goosenecks were spotted all over the court thanks to Mo “Gotti” Williams, and the bench was absolutely electric with the likes of Delonte West, J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao, and Jamario Moon (Dude had major ups’).  And, for the first time in LeBron’s career, every game wasn’t completely predicated on his play.

Everything that comes up must come down though. And in my opinion it all came down around the trade deadline in 2010.

LeBron desperately needed his Robin, and fast. A player that could propel the Cavaliers to championship level, luckily, there was one on the trade market in the Phoenix Sun’s Amare’ Stoudemire. Here’s the kicker, the front office was reluctant to pull the trigger because they didn’t want to get rid of young J.J. Hickson. Just in case you guys forgot, because I certainly didn’t. Instead, the organization went out and got a 33-year-old Antawn Jamison.

The ultimate slap in the face to Lebron. Look, Jamison had a hell of a career over 16 seasons, and was regarded as one of the nicest gentlemen in the league when he was playing. But, DAMN IT DAN GILBERT, PULL THE TRIGGER ON A LEGITIMATE BLOCKBUSTER DEAL.

The Cavaliers ended up handling Derrick Rose and his Chicago Bulls in five games, but an all too familiar foe was lurking in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Ah, the Boston Celtics. This was the most hellacious series in the eyes of Cavalier fans when you mention LeBron James, and only because people tend to remember the bad and forget everything great that happened in-between.

Look, this team was BUILT to defeat the Orlando Magic. The Cavaliers went and got Shaq to stop Dwight Howard, and longer defensive minded wings to match Rashard Lewis and Hedo Türkoğlu. One problem, the freshly configured roster never had the opportunity to achieve what it was built to do, and that is how you know this roster wasn’t championship caliber. Championship caliber rosters can meet up with any team, anytime, and come up victorious four out of seven times.

Instead, it was LeBron against the Boston Celtics. A series that will always be judged off one individuals body language, and even though that individual statically dominated that series (Rajon Rondo had his coming out party as well), the results were the same. Lebron in those six games averaged 27.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 7.2 assists.

Game Six was one of the weirdest games I’ve ever watched. Lebron posted a monstrous triple-double dropping 29, 19 and 10. A game everybody is quick to forget in regards to the performance he put on in the Garden that day, and focus in on his body language in the final minutes.

The Cavaliers lost that series 4-2, and as Drake would later teach us, Nothing Was the Same.

For you see, when LeBron walked off the court that day, took off his jersey in disgusted fashion, the city of Cleveland didn’t just lose another chance at a sports championship, no, it would end up losing so much more.

LeBron’s ridiculous two year run resulted in:

  • 2x NBA Most Valuable Player
  • 2x First Team All-NBA
  • 2x All-Star
  • 2x First Team All-Defense

(To be continued…)

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