LeBron James ensured his place among the NBA's all-time legends by leading the Cleveland Cavaliers in the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history and has made a solid case for being considered the greatest player ever.
The 31-year-old forward scored 27 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and passed out 11 assists to power Cleveland's 93-89 victory over defending champions Golden State Warriors in game seven of the NBA Finals.
With size, strength and speed that enable him to muscle his way to the hoop and finesse as a passer to make teammates a threat from anywhere on the court, James has made himself the dominant player of his era, reaching the NBA Finals six years in a row.
Michael Jordan pushed the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles in the 1990s with remarkable athletic skill and determination, setting the "best ever" standard for many fans over such icons as Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Boston Celtics 1960s big man Bill Russell won a record 11 NBA titles in an era of domination no team is likely to repeat, while Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal both excelled but often with help, sometimes from each other.
But James unleashed a magical comeback in the past week unseen in the NBA's 70-year history.
No team had ever rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the best-of-seven NBA Finals until he lifted the Cavaliers to deliver the NBA's greatest shocker, ending his city's 52-year wait for a major sports title.
In the process, James matched Johnson, O'Neal and Tim Duncan as three-time NBA Finals' most valuable players.
"You put everything into the game. The game always gives back to people that are true to the game," James said. "I know the history of the game and I was just confident and calm."
The Cavaliers ousted an ultimate foe that won a record 73 regular-season games and boasted the NBA's current top scorer and two-time most valuable player in Stephen Curry.
James was an unprecedented leader in every major finals statistical area, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocked shots a game. James flagged off jubilations that continued on Monday when he and the team landed at the Cleveland airport, displaying the championship trophy to more than 20,000 wellwishers. The party is set to continue Wednesday with a victory parade.
Overwhelmed by emotion in the moments after the title was decided revived memories of Jordan's tearful finish at the 1996 final. Both came on Father`s Day and for Jordan it was the first title since his father's death in 1993.
Comparisons with Jordan are apt as he and James may be the central players in the "greatest ever" argument for their versatility and success. Both made spectacular dunks and stunning shots in their younger days before learning to trust teammates as they got older, spreading the ball among talented role players to make their teams even more dangerous.
While James was only seconds away from becoming the first NBA most valuable player to lose five finals, he instead improved to 3-4 in the championship series, having gone 2-2 during four seasons with the Miami Heat. James had the last laugh at naysayers who nagged him all along his quest, posting an Instagram statement Monday beside a photo of him holding the trophy.
"They said u lost a step, wasn't explosive as once was, the best days was in the rear view, questioned your drive, your leadership, your commitment, you don't have killer instinct, going back home is the worst mistake in your career, he got the coach fired, players traded, won't work between him and Kyrie (Irving), Him and Kev (Kevin Love) won't work, love your teammates to much, there's no way he can deliver a championship in his hometown, etc etc etc.. But guess what THATS NONE OF MY BUSINESS Hahahaha!!! Yes sir," he posted.