There are times in life where an event cannot be explained with words. Something is so supernatural, so outstanding that you just need to sit back and think “What I just saw was something special.” One of these events just occurred before our very eyes. The Los Angeles Lakers traveled to Cleveland just a few days ago for a regular season game with no significance. It wasn’t on national television, it wasn’t against a great team and there was no reason to pay close attention. But LeBron James isn’t known for low-stakes moments.
When LeBron Raymone James steps onto a basketball court, meaningless game or not, the world will be watching. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of fans tune in to watch the greatest performer we have ever seen in sports. Every game LeBron plays is a significant one. So what made this game so special? Was it because the Cavaliers just beat one of the best teams in the league twice in a row? Was it because the Lakers were coming off of a big win against the Bulls? No. It was because of the game’s setting:
Once a year, LeBron returns for a matchup against his old team, and he never takes it lightly. Cleveland is the city LeBron built, the city LeBron grew up in and the city that he gives back to every day. LeBron’s schools, leadership and influence has the people of Ohio calling upon him to run for a seat in the senate. But LeBron had played in Cleveland for years, what made this game so different?
Exactly one year ago, January 25th, 2020, LeBron James played against the Philadelphia 76ers. Another meaningless game with all the meaning in the world. On that night, all those days ago, LeBron passed the late great Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list. An incredible feat for sure, but the significance of the moment was amplified when the very next morning, LeBron got off a plane in Los Angeles and discovered that Kobe, his close friend, his mentor and his idol was dead in a helicopter crash with his 13 year-old daughter. One year later, LeBron is back in his home-town of Cleveland on the eve of Kobe Bryant’s death. He wants to show the world exactly what this moment means to him.
The game starts, LeBron erupts. 17 points in the first quarter including four three-point shots that hit nothing but net. The Lakers get off to a quick 34-23 lead, but LeBron wouldn’t, couldn’t be satisfied with just that. Flash forward two quarters later, the Cavaliers have taken a two-point lead themselves. LeBron misses a jump-shot to end the third and is immediately mocked by a fan nearby. The fan mocked LeBron James on this night, in his building right before the game entered its final stage. LeBron gave the fan a quick nod and headed back to the locker room.
He wouldn’t let this game, Kobe’s game, get away from him, especially after what that fan had said.
In the fourth quarter, everything was falling apart for the Lakers. The energy in the arena was building up, the Cavaliers were confident with the lead, and LeBron’s teammates were struggling. But as we’ve seen from him time and time again, when everything was going wrong, LeBron couldn’t miss. He scored 21 points by himself in the fourth quarter, more than the entire Cavaliers team. He made every three-point shot he took, got to the basket with ease and refused to let the Cavs score on the other end. When the game was close with three minutes left, LeBron made a shot from nearly half-court just because he could. But the Cavaliers continued to rally.
Winning by five with just under a minute left, the Lakers needed just one more basket to put the game away. They needed something special. So what does LeBron do? He remembers his mentor and his friend, the man who died just one year ago with his daughter in his arms. He looks at his teammate Anthony Davis, he looks down at the two defenders guarding him and he looks up to the basket and to Kobe Bryant above.
He turns, falls away, and takes the same shot Kobe had hundreds of times.