LeBron went on Instagram Live last night and spoke to fans about numerous things. Among those things was game 6 against the Celtics in the 2012 Playoffs, and more specifically, his mindset going into the game. With that being one of the most crucial and impactful games in his career, we look into some of LeBron’s other legacy-defining moments.
The Pistons had already eliminated LeBron and the Cavaliers from the playoffs the year prior. Lebron and his crew dropped the first two games of the series and it looked like it would be a repeat from the year before. But the Cavaliers followed James who lead his team to two straight wins. In a crucial game 5, the Cleveland found themselves hanging on to a 1 point lead with 6 minutes left in the game. LeBron was sitting at 19 points, which wasn’t awful but was still 8 points below his season average. For the next 16 minutes, (the game went to double OT) LeBron put on a show that defined his legacy, one that people still talk about today. He went on to score 25 straight teams for his team and 29 of the team’s last 30 points. LeBron finished the game with a then career-high 48 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists, and the Cavs went on to win the game and the series in the very next game. And LeBron ended up making the first of his many finals appearance. But what really has this moment embedded in fans’ heads is that LeBron was still known to be a pass-first guy that hadn’t had that defining moment yet. He had some clutch moments and big games against the Wizards in the playoffs before, but this was against the first seed, and the 6th best defensive team and LeBron was as aggressive as ever. It really looked like it was the first time he truly believed he was the best player in the league and that there really was no stopping him if he put his head down and attacked consistently.
LeBron James had spent his career in Cleveland, where he hails from, up until this point. And while he had been seen being frustrated with his playoff runs and his teams lacked a reliable supporting cast, there were still many hopefuls who believed LeBron would stay a Cavalier. But the Cavaliers and their fans would have to hope he would not be swayed by the other teams that rolled out the red carpet in trying to recruit him. Chicago believed it could pair James up with Chicago native Dwayne Wade, New York believed it could lure him in with the chance to give him the city, the bright lights of the Big Apple, and another star, and even the dark horse Nets, Clippers and Mavericks were in the conversation at some point. And then there was Miami. The days leading up to his decision were met with NBA analysts conjuring up guesses and claiming to have the inside information. At one point, he was reportedly committed to being a Knick, while a few hours before, people had predicted he would go to Chicago. We had never seen a free-agency like this and things were already hectic. To make things worse? More unpredictable? Memorable. To make things more memorable, James had announced that he would hold a live special on ESPN to let the world know of “The Decision”.
We now know he ultimately ended up a Heat, but those two words, “The Decision” will forever be attached to LeBron in the sports world, and many to this day debate on if that was handled fairly or correctly. It may not have been the outright beginning to the free-agent bonanza we experience every few years for a star nowadays, but this will be credited as what really got the ball rolling and elevated the fiasco to another level. Apart from the actual aired program, people also credit LeBron, whether it’s fair or not is a different conversation, for starting the “play with your friend, create a super team” era of the NBA.
After the aforementioned decision to take his talents to the Miami Heat, LeBron James, now villainized, and his teammates took some time to gel. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had both been the go-to guy on their teams and now they were trying to find out how to mesh with another ball-dominant player. They spent much of the first half of the season trying to figure out how to play together and trying to pinpoint their identity as a team. LeBron still seemed to be coming to grips with becoming the NBA’s new most hated player and his play and mental state seemed to waver at times. Regardless, they found a way to make things click as the season went on, and their supreme talents resulted in them becoming the 2nd seed when the season was set and done. The Heat beat the 76ers, Celtics, and the Bulls and found themselves in the position they wanted to be in. A chance to win the championship. Dallas, on the other hand, took a completely different road. They had signed Ian Mahimi, and Peja Stojakovic, and resigned Dirk Nowitzki, their franchise star. Mark Cuban and the Mavericks surrounded Dirk Nowitzki with a plethora of very solid players like JJ Barea, Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, DeShawn Stevenson, and Jason Terry. But unlike their Eastern Conference counterpart, the Mavericks knew who their guy was and what their identity was. The Mavericks entered the postseason as the 3rd seed, but their German forward, had been carrying a reputation of choking in the playoffs and he had yet to put a stamp on his legacy to set himself apart from the other great forwards that were in the league with him. The Mavericks went on to dismantle the Trailblazers, ended the Lakers dynastic run, and took care of the young up and coming Thunder to meet the Heat in the finals. The series was 2-2 at one point, but the concern was around LeBron James. After already being villainized for his move to Miami all eyes were on him, and in the 2 losses in games 2 and 4, James combined for 28 points on 11/26. The aggression he had shown he was capable of was not there and the man so many wanted to see fail, was doing so. Things were made worse because of the way the Mavericks were built and it did not help the Wade and James seemed to take a shot at Nowitzki for being sick during the finals. Dirk with a pair of clutch performances, won games 5 and 6 to win his first ring while the Heat and their superstar loaded team failed to win a championship in their first year. LeBron ended up scoring 17 and 21 points in the final 2 games and that reputation of LeBron James and shrinking at times has stayed with him, even though he was come up big in numerous situations since.
The San Antonio Spurs had long been considered one of the best teams in the league. For over a decade, they were consistently in the playoffs, and in the years they weren’t winning championships, they were making deep runs. Led by future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Many Ginobili, the Spurs were a well-oiled machine led by basketball genius and professional winner Gregg Popovich. After going 58-24 during the season, the second-seeded Spurs dispatched the Lakers, Warriors, and Grizzlies and were in familiar territory. The Heat cruised to the best record in the league with 66 wins and beat the Bucks, Bulls, and Pacers to end up in their 3rd straight finals. The Spurs and Heat split the first 4 games and with the series tied at 2, LeBron and Dwyane Wade chipped in 25 points each but it was not enough as Tony Parker’s 26 points and the Spurs hot shooting resulted in a win, and now a 3-2 series lead. With the Spurs up 94-89 with just under 30 seconds left, things did not look great for the Heat. League officials even brought out the trophy and yellow tape to get ready to crown the Spurs. LeBron kept things close by hitting a 3 with 20 seconds left. Kawhi Leonard was fouled on the following possession and was only able to sink 1 of 2. The score was now 95-92. James tried to sink in a 3, but he missed. Chris Bosh was able to corral the rebound, in part due to the fact that coach Popovich kept his best rebounder, Tim Duncan, out of the game so they could switch everything. Bosh then looked back and hit a backpedaling Ray Allen, who went on to hit one of the most historic shots ever.
The Heat would go on to win the game in OT and the series giving LeBron and the Heat back to back championships.
The Warriors were coming off of a championship in 2015 and came into the 15-16 season with more confidence and swag than ever. They rode the hot hand of the splash brothers, had Draymond Green continuing to fluster offenses by being everywhere, Harrison Barnes was a solid 3rd option, Andre Iguodala seemed to make the right play whenever he was on the court, Shaun Livingston was still a 6ft 7 point guard who could not be stopped in the post. They won a league-record 73 games and Steph Curry became the first unanimous MVP in league history. That’s not all, Steph could have even won the Most Improved Player Award as he had upped his PER more than any other reigning MVP candidate, and put up numbers that upped his MVP season the prior season. He had the highest points per 48 in the 4th quarter in the last 20 years, led the league in field goal percentage on layups, shot 51.6% from 28-47 feet, and had the highest PER for a guard since Michael Jordan in 90-91. So with all of that said, the Warriors were the favorites going into the playoffs. Steph ended up getting a bit hobbled and the OKC Thunder pushed the Warriors to a game 7, but the historic team still ended up in the finals to have a rematch against LeBron and the Cavaliers, who had a healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving this time around, something they did not have for the year before. The Warriors took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series on the heel of the Warriors depth. Shaun Livingston led the team in scoring in game 1, Draymond Green in game 2, and Steph Curry in game 4. The series seemed over but the Cavaliers maintained a game by game approach and followed their own former MVP. The Warriors were without the heart of their team, Draymond Green, who was suspended after his 4th flagrant foul in the postseason. Kyrie and LeBron both had 41 points apiece (first ever duo to do so), Andrew Bogut suffered a series-ending knee injury and the series went to a 6th game. The Cavaliers scored the first 8 points and never looked back as LeBron dropped 41 points again and forced a game 7. This ends up being one of the greatest games in league history, and the back and forth matchup ended up a lower scoring battle. Draymond Green, potentially feeling some of the guilt for there even being a game 7, came out scorching and ended up with 32 points. But LeBron James had one of his most iconic plays as he blocked an Andre Iguodala layup against the backboard with 1:50 left in the game. Kyrie Irving went on to hit a clutch step-back 3 and the Cavaliers end up completing what seemed like the impossible. LeBron gets another career-defining moment on his way to coming back from a 3-1 deficit and picking up a ring over the greatest regular-season team of all time.