A new era in Cleveland Cavaliers basketball begins as LeBron James and the gang take on the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
James, after a four-year sabbatical in Miami, will attempt to win the city of Cleveland its first major pro sports championship since Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns accomplished the fete way back in 1964.
The Cavs are the odds-on-favorite to win the NBA title, but fans of the Wine and Gold haven’t forgotten the bad luck that attaches itself to being a fan of Cleveland.
James is a different player since we last saw him wearing a Cavs uniform in the playoffs, which coincidentally, was a 2010 loss to the Celtics. At the time, James had zero championships and nationally, he was gaining a reputation as someone who couldn’t close.
But on the morning of the playoffs, the most anxiety-filled Cavs are wondering: Is James still prone to choking, even though he’s won two titles? After all, those championship banners aren’t hanging at The Q.
The pressure for James to win has really, never been greater. Personally, he’s climbed the mountain, but now he’s back, where he started. The loss in last season’s Finals. The Sports Illustrated essay. His welcome home hero-worship at Akron’s Infocision Stadium. ESPN closing down E. 4th street for the Cavs’ season opener. His well publicized winter wellness vacation. Trying to motivate Kevin Love through the press.
Everything was geared toward today. And the fans and media are going to see a different LeBron. It’s all about basketball and only basketball for James. Everything else takes a backseat for this reason: The choke.
ESPN writer Brian Windhorst talked about James ability to shut everything out as a mechanism to curb the choking problem he was labeled with after losing in the 2010 playoffs to the Celtics, and again with the Heat in the 2011 Finals (16:24).
“Everything that LeBron does, his going into a bunker, turning off social media; These are all anti-choking maneuvers…the choke is what Lebron is prone to do. And so everything he’s doing in the postseason is to avoid that choke.”
Windhorst quickly followed up by stating that he’s seen James hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in one hand and the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy in the other on two different occasions. Whatever James does to clear his mind for the playoffs, it works.
“He can do it. I’ve seen him do it,” Windhorst said.
Ultimately, Windhorst is saying that the choke gene is probably still somewhere inside James. It may be buried so deep that we’ll never ever see it again (hopefully), but it’s there.
Windhorst pointed to Game 5, way back in 2010, as the first time James choked on a major stage and added that James really never dealt with the issue.
The King was forced to recognize the problem following the 2011 Finals, when the Mavericks edged out the Heat. Remember, it was during that series that James had an eight-point game. James is basically guaranteed double-digit scoring figures for showing up. Something was wrong.
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Windhorst said the Finals loss forced James to confront the problem:
“When he left the Cavs, I don’t think he really ever dealt with that he choked in that series. He blamed it on the team. Blamed it on the supporting cast and said I’m getting out of here, and didn’t deal with the core issue which was, he had to get better. he had to learn to control his emotions, and he still fights controlling his emotions today.”
If there’s one positive about 2010 that Cavs fans can reflect on today, it’s that it was five years ago. LeBron isn’t a kid trying to prove that HE can win championships. He’s been there, done that. This is about unfinished business and bringing a title home. James has never been more prepared for this moment than he is right now.