CLEVELAND — Not everyone wants 2016, month after month of messy moments and mayhem, to end.
For LeBron James, it was a charmed year.
“A magical run,” he said. “I felt like Aladdin on my flying magic carpet.”
On top of the world.
James soared in his second season back in Cleveland, his homecoming was capped by a historic comeback in which he led the Cavs to an NBA title to end the city’s 52-year sports championship drought.
There was no stopping James this year. He mesmerized on the court, his game showing no signs of decay in his 14th season. He is ascending in every statistical career list and might be better than ever.
But numbers don’t reveal the full measure of James, who this year broadened his business profile and made a deeper commitment to philanthropic and social causes — in Ohio and across the country. The face of the league is also the front man for an entire region transformed by his return.
The Akron wunderkind who has spent half his life being pegged as the “Next Michael Jordan” has surpassed immense expectations. He turned 32 on Friday and calls his 31st year like no other.
A third NBA title. Finals MVP. Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year. A White House visit. Husband. Father of three. The adoration of millions.
“It’s been a great year and I can say, yes, it’s been the best because I’m in the present and I’m a present type of guy,” he told the AP recently. “But not just to see everything I’ve been able to accomplish individually, but also the things that I’ve been able to do to inspire others with my foundation and people in this city, it’s been a great year for sure.”
Cleveland doesn’t just look different, it feels different. James can take some of the credit.
Downtown is nearly unrecognizable, revived by new hotels and apartment buildings and a renewal of The Flats, a trendy area with bars and restaurant on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, which famously burned in the 1960s. Young Clevelanders, who for decades fled after college for opportunities elsewhere, are coming back — just as James did.
There’s also something deeper. The population has been flushed with a civic pride that in part has grown by what James and the Cavs did in June. He’s given Clevelanders swagger and it doesn’t hurt that he’s one of them.
Perhaps the best snapshot of Cleveland’s triumphant year was James wearing a “Cleveland Or Nowhere” T-shirt while cheering for the Indians during the World Series.
“I look at the accomplishments, and none of it is for me,” he said. “It’s for my wife and my kids and my mother and my in-laws, all my friends, all the kids in the foundation, everyone I tried to inspire. I accomplished everything for them to be happy. I do everything because of them and for people to be able to say, this is who we are and be confident about it. That’s what matters to me.”
Now that he’s got three rings — halfway to Jordan’s six — the debate over whether James can one day pass His Airness as the greatest player in league history has intensified.
James has always left the argument for others to ponder. Even though it makes for good talk radio and bar stool banter, James won’t join the discussion.
“Our games are so different,” he said when asked about Jordan at 32. “He was much more of a scorer, and did a lot of post work at that time. But our games are just different. His body is different. So you recognize the dominance that someone had at that age, but there’s no similarities in our games at all.”
In the eyes of Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, James can’t be compared to any one player. He’s an amalgamation of talent.
“He’s got the explosiveness and power of Dominique Wilkins, the scoring ability of Jordan at times,” Lue said. “The court vision and the way he pushes the pace like Magic Johnson. And as far as a comparison between him and Jordan, the comparisons I have is when you’re on top, the best player in the league for so long and having to carry that each and every year and never get knocked down off that pedestal, that’s a big accomplishment because guys are coming for you. You’re a target.”
As his grand year trickles to its final hours, James isn’t looking too far ahead.
How do you top the greatest year of your life?
“You don’t even try,” he said. “You start from scratch and say, ‘All right, it’s 2017, let’s see what happens.’ I’ve never been a New Year’s resolution guy. I don’t need to make goals when I’ve been living my life the right way for a long time. You don’t want to start over, you say, let’s see what happens, continue to give praise to the man above and live your life and continue to inspire people.
“It’s already written, so let’s see what happens.”
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