This time around, there was no debate about what constituted "value," or about whether someone who turned in a superhuman performance in a losing effort merited the championship round's top individual award. This time around, there would be no other choice. There couldn't be.
For the second straight year, LeBron James did absolutely everything for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. This year, after leading the Cavs to the first championship in franchise history and Cleveland to its first professional sports title in more than a half-century, James was the only choice for NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
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"Two years ago, he wrote a letter to his fans in which he said, 'I'm coming home,'" NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during the postgame ceremony on the court at Oracle Arena. "And he said, 'Nothing is given to you in Northeast Ohio. Everything is earned.' And LeBron, it was unanimous: Most Valuable Player, 2016 NBA Finals. Congratulations."
It's the third Finals MVP of James' illustrious career, tying him with Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal for the second-most honors in league history behind Michael Jordan, who took home Finals MVP after each of his six championships with the Chicago Bulls.
James was absolutely unbelievable for the Cavaliers in this series. He averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks in 41.7 minutes per game, shooting just under 50 percent from the floor and 37 percent from 3-point land.
With Cleveland in a 3-1 hole and facing elimination, LeBron responded with three straight remarkable, series-shifting performances: 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocks in Game 5; 41 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals and three blocks in Game 6; and 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, three blocks and two steals in Game 7, making him just the third player ever to put a triple-double in a Game 7, joining James Worthy in 1988 and Jerry West in 1969.
That last statistical marker isn't the most impressive one of James' Finals run, though:
LeBron James: led all players on both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in series
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 20, 2016
He is the first player in NBA history to lead all players in all five categories for an entire playoff series https://t.co/5tCfyA606A
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 20, 2016
As unbelievable as James was on the court, though, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue credited his superstar for being an even more impressive influence off it.
"That's what you look at, when you see him on the floor: you see his basketball talent, the way he can control a game and take over a game and things like that," Lue said after becoming the coach of the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals. "But the biggest thing for LeBron, the reason why he deserves this, is because he has a great heart. He's always giving. He's giving to everyone. And it's not just about basketball. It's about who he is as a person, and great things happen to great people."
James' all-out, all-court effort included tremendous defensive work in the latter stages of the series, in blanketing Warriors power forward Draymond Green, helping silence regular-season MVP Stephen Curry on switches and snuff out the Warriors' bread-and-butter high pick-and-roll sets. Most notably, though, it manifested in the thunderous chasedown blocks that eliminated so many seemingly sure Golden State buckets, including this unbelievable swat of an Andre Iguodala layup to preserve a tied score with 1:50 left:
LeBron James had 10 weakside or chase down blocks in this series on shots that would otherwise have been near automatic baskets.
— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) June 20, 2016
After keeping the Warriors from getting a one-possession lead, and watching Kyrie Irving drill an ice-water-in-his-veins 3-pointer over Curry to give the Cavs a 92-89 lead, LeBron seized on an opportunity to attack, cutting behind a ball-watching Iguodala into the heart of the paint for a drop-off pass by Irving that might have resulted in one of the greatest dunks in postseason history, had Green not taken a hard foul to prevent the sure bucket:
After a few scary moments of LeBron laid out on the hardwood, clutching his right hand and clearly in pain, he got up, stepped to the foul line, and split his pair, giving the Cavs the four-point lead that would stand as the final margin of victory in the greatest win of his storied career.
"Best player on the planet, right there, as you can see with the Finals MVP," said Irving, who capped a sensational Finals of his own with 26 points, six rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in 43 minutes of superb attacking and shot-making. "He took us home tonight, and that's what he does. That's what great players do. He made history tonight, and I'm proud of him."
With this victory — this incredible comeback against the winningest regular-season team in NBA history, with two wins on their home court — James and his team have ended a 52-year pro sports title drought that had, in the minds of many fans, come to define Cleveland. Now, tonight, that's over. Now, tonight, Cleveland's a city of champions, because Cleveland's where the King lays his crown.
"I understood what the people of Northeast Ohio have been through the last 50-plus years. I kept it at bay," he told ABC's Doris Burke. "I never stressed the fact that I didn't feel the pressure, none of those things, so it always kept me level-headed, but I understood what everyone in Northeast Ohio has been through the last 50-plus years, and I'm happy to be a part of history. I can't wait to get back home. I'm ready to get back to you guys."
As a follow-up, Burke asked James why this title, and this Finals MVP, felt different than the ones he earned as a member of the Miami Heat.
"I'm home," he replied. "This is what I came back for."
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