Usually, when a world famous American athlete does more than an acting cameo in a film, it’s a sign that he/she is looking at life beyond the field, that they’re at the twilight of a playing career and must look beyond the horizon to “explore” other avenues of entertainment and fame. Dennis Rodman’s tiny role in Bedazzled (2000) came at the end of a storied career, ditto with Michael Jordan and Space Jam (1996). Shaquille O’Neil, though, was an exception, with his ‘leading’ role in Kazaam (1996) coinciding with the peak of his career and his legendary move to the Los Angeles Lakers.
So when this generation’s greatest basketball player – and perhaps the greatest NBA player of all time – LeBron James appeared in Judd Apatow’s Amy Schumer-starrer Trainwreck last year, it seemed that James had perhaps begun to make peace with a life without a Cleveland Cavaliers NBA title. They had just lost the NBA Finals to the Stephen Curry-led Golden State Warriors, and James was beginning to feel like the clutch player who could never quite bring his best for his home team. This was his “bored” move – the move a genius athlete usually makes when they have no challenges left to explore in their own sport, and decide to make things a little more difficult for their own lives. After starting his career and failing to win a NBA title with the Cavaliers, James won three NBA titles with Miami Heat in four consecutive finals from 2010 to 2014. The hoodoo had been broken, and there was nothing he felt he could accomplish with them anymore.
This was, of course, in between his two Olympic gold-medal winning tournaments at Beijing (2008) and London (2012), which perhaps made him “bored” enough to take stock again. Michael Phelps did it after London 2012, retiring from the sport he owned, losing focus almost on purpose, only to throw himself a challenge to start from scratch and swim at this year’s Olympics, to prove he’s human after all. Valentino Rossi did it in MotoGP, when he stopped enjoying his own domination, changing teams from Honda to Yamaha and back, interrupting his own greatness, as did Sebastian Vettel, who left Renault after winning four World Titles with them to drive with a weaker Ferrari team.
James then came back to the Cavaliers in 2014, making it his mission to win a NBA title with them. This was after everything was going hunky dory with Heat.
Going through the Eastern Conference wouldn’t be easy on its own, considering the fact that the Cavaliers had NEVER won an NBA title in their history, and had, only four seasons ago, claimed an embarrassing sporting record of 26 consecutive losses. That was the season without James, where he had left them for Heat. When James returned, he continued his NBA Finals record with him, reaching two in a row – and his sixth in a row overall, an NBA record, losing the 2015 Championships 4-2 after leading 2-1 against the Warriors at one stage. Only ten days ago, he was on the verge of losing his second consecutive Final to the Warriors, trailing 3-1 with three games to go. James dragged his Cleveland team almost single-handedly through the next three games, even perhaps playing the best individual NBA game of all time in Game 6, where they destroyed the Warriors against the run of play.
The numbers, in the end, are astounding. James won his third title, and the Cavs became the first-ever team to win the title after being 3-1 down in the Finals. Once again, he ended up as the NBA Finals MVP, for the third time in his career, and the twelfth consecutive time in the NBA All-Stars team. There is virtually nothing left to achieve for James, at the age of 31, anymore. But they said that in 2013 too, after he won two in a row with Miami – and here he is, once again, the King of the world.
He is still nowhere next to Jordan’s six NBA titles, or even Rodman and Kobe Bryant’s five, just one behind O’Neil’s four – and doesn’t even figure on that individual list. Which is ironical, because perhaps there has been no greater ‘individual’ team player in the history of the sport. Just look at the Cavs graph for that.