A wave of emotion washed over LeBron James as he watched portions of the 2016 NBA Finals for the first time with prospects at the Nike Skills Academy in July. Yet, despite that latest triumph for the Cleveland Cavaliers star, he's still hunting the "ghost played in Chicago."
Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated passed along comments from James as the 31-year-old relived what could end up being his crowning achievement—a title for The Land—and he explained what was going through his mind:
You ever watch a movie that you've already seen, so you know what's going to happen, but you're still like, "What is going to happen?" I just watched the O.J. special on FX, and the judge is reading the verdict—Orenthal James Simpson—and I'm on the edge of my seat. I knew what was going to happen, of course, but I felt like I didn't. This is the same thing. I know we win. But I don't really know what happened.
The Akron, Ohio, native admitted this year's championship is more important than the two he won with the Miami Heat "because of everything it represents." He talked about the steady stream of Cleveland sports fans who've thanked him after they endured a 52-year title drought.
"Just yesterday, I was on the rooftop at The Peninsula, and a lady came up to me crying and hyperventilating," James said, per SI. "She was like, I'm from Cleveland and you have no idea. She's right. It's been more than a month, and I still have no idea."
Bringing a championship to Cleveland was a significant goal. That said, like any great athlete, James is already on to the next task. He's now seeing whether he can chase down that ghost from Chicago, of course referencing Michael Jordan.
James made it clear to SI he wants to put himself in position to have a legitimate case for the "GOAT" label:
My career is totally different than Michael Jordan's. What I've gone through is totally different than what he went through. What he did was unbelievable, and I watched it unfold. I looked up to him so much. I think it's cool to put myself in position to be one of those great players, but if I can ever put myself in position to be the greatest player, that would be something extraordinary.
At 31, he's only about halfway to that dream. Jordan retired from the NBA with six championships and six NBA Finals MVP awards. James currently owns three of each to go along with four regular-season MVP trophies, one less than MJ.
His road to more titles got more difficult during the offseason, too. The Golden State Warriors, the Cavaliers' opponent in each of the last two Finals, further bolstered their already star-studded roster by signing prized free agent Kevin Durant.
Ultimately, trying to match or exceed Jordan after watching him dominate throughout the 1990s is James' toughest challenge yet. He still sounds as motivated as ever, though, and that's great news for Cleveland sports fans who don't want to wait 52 more years for another parade.