CLEVELAND– The 2017-18 Cavaliers season has been filled with drama, but nevertheless the Wine and Gold are now thriving in the postseason.
For that reason and many others, I firmly believe this season has been the least amount of pressure LeBron James has had in any season with the Cavaliers organization. While many fans and media would believe that the most fun came in the 2016 championship season, I would beg to differ. The biggest reason for this belief is the lack of pressure on him, as many see the Cavaliers as a huge underdog to win a title.
True, this may be the single most on-court performance pressure ever put on him during the playoffs, but it is the first time in a long time, he has been seen as the “underdog” in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Not since the 2006-2008 runs against the Detroit Pistons have this many fans and media members felt he and the Cavaliers were this serious of an underdog. The pressure to perform individually remains on him, but not the pressure to win. When you say it out loud, it doesn’t make much sense, but when you stop and really begin to think, it does.
The proof is seen with his on-court play thus far this postseason. The pressure is gone, the championship has already been secured (2016), and now without Kyrie Irving, this is no longer a “super team,” so losing wouldn’t be as big of a shock. It would seem he has taken that as motivation to play some of the best playoff basketball of his career.
He is hitting buzzer-beaters and pounding his chest with the fans. He is high-fiving his son in the crowd and loving every moment.
The pressure of having to cope with Irving is gone. Issues with former head coaches David Blatt and Mike Brown no longer exist. The nonstop pressures to “win one for Cleveland” are also gone. This is the one season James could have made excuse after excuse, and he has chosen not too. He is enjoying the game he grew up loving. The pressure is off, the smiling is back, and the winning has followed along despite all the regular season hardships.
While it is not a forgone conclusion that the Cavaliers will sweep Toronto and go on to defeat the Boston Celtics or the Philadelphia 76ers for a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals, it sure feels like it is. If and when they get there, there is no doubt they will be a large underdog to either the Rockets or Warriors, but maybe that is the best way it can be.
I don’t doubt for a single second that LeBron James had a tremendous amount of fun during his first run here. We all remember the magical performance in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit, and his back-to-back MVP seasons in 2009 and 2010. But the pressures to win one for Cleveland or prove he is one of the all-time greats are gone now. No one can deny he is one of the greatest athletes in the history of all professional sports. His legacy is secured, win or lose. The player, the man and the teammate is having fun and playing the game the right way.
It doesn’t take funny handshakes, or powder being thrown up in the air pregame. It takes the love of the game, the passion to succeed and the willingness to trust your teammates when you have to. James has done all of that, and at the end of the day, we are all witnesses.