Cleveland (AFP) – NBA superstar LeBron James admits he’s considering breaking the hearts of Cleveland sports fans once again by leaving the Cavaliers for a better chance at becoming a champion again.
The 33-year-old playmaker fell to 3-6 in career finals Friday in Cleveland’s 108-85 loss to Golden State, which gave the Warriors a sweep of the 72nd NBA Finals.
James, who played his eighth consecutive finals, can opt out of his contract and become a free agent in July, much the way he did when he left Cleveland in 2010.
His departure engendered bitter feelings and burned jerseys, but he came back after two titles and two finals losses in Miami and went 1-3 in four straight finals meetings with the Warriors.
While opportunities with the Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers are likely available, the native of nearby Akron might elect to stay and try to keep the Cavs a contender.
“I have no idea at this point,” James said. “Sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that. So I don’t have an answer for you right now.
“I’m not going to take you throughout the whole process. That’s not fun. But when I decide what I’m going to do with my future, my family and the folks that have been with me for the last, you know, 20 years, pretty much, will have a say-so. Then it ultimately will come down to me, and so we’ll see what happens.”
In 2014, James returned to the Cavaliers vowing to win a title and did so in 2016, the first by any Cleveland sports team since the 1964 NFL Browns.
“I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” James said. “To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember.”
Asked if his business was finished, James called that a “trick question” but noted the victory fed his hunger for more trophy ceremonies.
“I still have so much to give to the game,” James said. “Like I said, when you have a goal and you’re able to accomplish that goal, it made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships, and I still want to be in championship mode. I think I’ve shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.”
James said after the loss he played the last three games with a broken right hand, reportedly caused when he punched a display board in frustration after a J.R. Smith error and referee call reversal led to an overtime loss in a game the Cavs led late.
“Self-inflicted, post-game after game one. Very emotional. For a lot of different reasons — understanding how important a game one is on the road for our ballclub, what would that have done for us, the way we played, the calls that were made throughout the course of that game,” James said.
“I had emotions on the game was taken away from us. I had emotions of you just don’t get an opportunity like this on the road versus Golden State to be able to get a game one. And I let the emotions get the best of me.”
– ‘Terrifying’ talent –
That outburst aside, James was proudest of being a rock for the Cavs in a difficult season.
“It has definitely been a whirlwind,” James said. “I just try to be consistent throughout the course of the season. Be the leader I know I can be for this ballclub, for this franchise every night, no matter what was going on from the outside or the inside, and be reliable every single day.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr called James “terrifying” and said he is level with former Kerr teammate Michael Jordan as the NBA’s finest that he ever saw.
“I think maybe the greatest testament to LeBron is that five years ago he was one of the top five players of all time. From five years ago until now, it seems like he’s 10 times better, because he’s added so much skill to his game,” Kerr said.
“I get asked all the time about MJ, LeBron, and it’s such a difficult question to ask. All I know is they’re the two best players that I’ve ever witnessed. However you want to rank them, they’re right there together.”