No. 1: Leading the Cavaliers to a title
Regardless of the number, when James left Cleveland the first time, he guaranteed rings. In his return, he promised one for The Land. Similar to his trip to South Florida, the mission was accomplished by season two.
Standing in his way were the Warriors, an outfit that won 73 games, led by a once-in-a-lifetime player in Stephen Curry. The previous year, Golden State became acquainted with Cleveland, minus Kevin Love and mostly Kyrie Irving. In overtime of Game 1, Irving broke his kneecap, leaving James with a crew of role players undermanned.
The Warriors won the series in six, reclaiming the title for the Bay Area for the first time since 1975. That offseason, James lobbied for Love’s return as Irving’s knee healed.
In their next rendezvous, the Dubs captured a 3-1 lead. During Game 4, the Cavs were getting blitzed, but James shrewdly made something of nothing by agitating Draymond Green. He threw down the Dancing Bear (Green) and crossed the line by walking over him. Green swiped at James in the act, but of course, the refs got involved when both guys were chest-to-chest and in a hail of profanity.
Green’s antics got him suspended for Game 5 at Oracle Arena. James and Irving each scored 41 points as the Warriors’ backline defense was severely compromised. The Cavaliers won and the series shifted back to Cleveland.
In another Herculean effort, James logged another 41 points on 59.3% shooting to force Game 7 at Oracle. He was unstoppable on the break as a scorer and distributor as the Cavs raced to a 31-9 lead. As the match matured, he zipped into the lane with and without screens, plus converted two more deep jumpers.
Three nights later, in the season finale, James and Co. were in their second road elimination game of the NBA Finals. The squad was down seven points and logged 38.1% of its tries by halftime. James played every minute of the second half, picking up 15 points, six assists, four rebounds, a steal and a block.
He and Irving were the only double-digit scorers for the Cavaliers in the second half. The visiting bench contributed a donut in this stretch.
The game was tied at 89 for nearly four minutes until Irving isolated Curry on the wing, splashing a triple. With the Cavaliers up three, Irving beat Klay Thompson’s full-court press and absorbed an extra defender as he dished the rock to James cutting through the center. LBJ went up for the jam, but was fouled by Green and almost broke his hand on the way down. At the line, James made one of two to push the Cavaliers up four with 11 seconds left.
The Wine and Gold celebrated behind enemy lines as James won his third NBA title and delivered the first for Cleveland. He and the crew raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy ended a 52-year drought of a major sports championship in the city. The last title before the Cavaliers won was earned by the Browns in 1964.
This list is getting shuffled if he ends up playing with Bronny.