Love him or hate him, LeBron James’ performance against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals deserves to be recognized and revered.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue didn’t hold back when putting LeBron James’ performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals into context, comparing it to his NBA title-winning Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
LeBron James sought out Jayson Tatum after the NBA Finals-clinching win for the Cavaliers. James then heaped praise on the Boston rookie in his Q&A with the media. “I just love everything about the kid,” he said.
“Like him, I think he’s said this, we’re just focused — and it’s the truth, it’s not avoiding the question — we’re literally focused on (the now),” Gilbert told ESPN. “It’s just so intense in the playoffs and getting to the Finals and now the Finals, I don’t think — and I know he doesn’t — I don’t think even our guys are talking (about anything other than) what’s in front of them.
“So, everybody knows, obviously what we want to happen and we’ll take the Finals first and take it from there.”
James, who has a player option for the 2018-19 season worth $35.6 million, can opt out of his deal to become an unrestricted free agent come July. The last time James tested free agency as a member of the Cavs he chose to join the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010, sending Cleveland into a four-year tailspin until he came back for a second stint with the franchise in 2014. James has insisted time and time again during the 2017-18 campaign that he would not make his decision about where he will play next year until the Cavs season was over.
Gilbert has had precious few words to say about James’ situation on the record this season. During an event promoting the sneaker exchange company he co-founded, StockX, back in April, he made a vague reference to it, saying, “I probably should wear LeBrons, right? That will probably increase the odds of that contract (being signed).”
Gilbert’s and James’ brief exchange before the trophy presentation on Sunday night — the Cavs star barely acknowledged the owner as he made his way toward the dais — only fueled the narrative of the pair’s rocky relationship.
The uncertainty surrounding James’ future is just one of the many issues that loomed over the Cavs’ season, from general manager David Griffin’s dismissal, to the Kyrie Irving trade, to an explosive team meeting in January, to a complete roster overhaul in February, to persistent injuries, to even a leave of absence for coach Tyronn Lue to deal with a health scare.
Add it all up, and Gilbert cherished the Cavs’ victory over the Boston Celtics even more.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I think of the four (consecutive) Eastern Conference titles, this one feels special and the best.
“I think when you have so many challenges and things throughout the year that we’ve had and people have had around here — individual stuff, team stuff — and then you come out in really tough playoffs, full rounds, just there’s really something special about it.”
Then Gilbert looked to make a point that how his organization is viewed — as a chaotic, sometimes volatile enterprise — could actually be something that makes his team better on the biggest stage.
“To me, it’s sort of one of those proof points that nothing is perfect in the world,” Gilbert told ESPN. “You can still have success and still have issues and things you overcome. Sometimes it makes you tougher, harder, stronger. Obviously, Bron, we’ve drawn off his specialness, especially this late in his career. I mean, everything about it has a theme. Sort of like that theme, ‘Whatever It Takes,’ wasn’t by mistake. It was by design and I’m very proud of the front office, the coaching staff, players, everything, everybody. It’s very, very humbling.”
“Whatever It Takes” is the Cavs’ official playoff slogan and also exemplifies the approach that Gilbert has taken in combating his son, Nick’s, neurofibromatosis, a nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow anywhere in the body at any time.
Gilbert told ESPN that his son Nick, who underwent laser ablation brain surgery in February which was widely reported, needed a second surgery in Washington, D.C., in April as a follow-up and spent much of the time that came after that in Boston for more treatment.
The owner said the Cavs’ deep playoff run has helped lift Nick’s spirits.
“He looks forward to coming to games. He’s getting stronger every day,” Gilbert told ESPN. “He just was in Boston for six weeks for proton beam therapy, radiation therapy. So we’ve been here for six weeks on and off. And he just ended last Tuesday. So I said, ‘Nick, we got to go back to Boston one more time.’ He said, ‘For this, I’ll come back.’ …
“He’s done well. He’s getting stronger. And this is one of those things that is a long play. (The tumor) is benign, but it grows. Obviously his left side is affected. But he’s getting better. He’s getting tougher, stronger. So, this helps, for sure.”