LeBron James: Family, not losses in Finals, will stand test of time

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Monday, December 25, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO -- With Clevelandset to play Golden Statefor the first time since its NBA Finals loss in June droppedLeBron James' career record to 3-5 in the championship round, the Cavaliers star said he doesn't dwell on the team's Game 3 collapse that all but assured the Warriors their second ring in three years.

"No," James said Sunday when asked whether Game 3 -- which the Warriors closed on an 11-0 run to erase a six-point Cavs lead with 3:09 remaining -- still sticks with him. "No. I mean, listen. I've lost five Finals. What are you going to do about it? No.

"What's going to stick with me is seeing my daughter smile, seeing my kids graduate high school, college. Hopefully my daughter will go off and meet the man of her dreams. That's what's going to stick with me. I keep telling you all, these games and wins and losses -- yeah, I love it -- but it's not the be all and end all for me. So I've had so many moments in this game that I'm going to cherish. But Game 3 here in the Finals or a game there, I'm good. I don't lose sleep anymore."

The eventual series win helped Warriors forward Kevin Durant sleep easy, as he captured the first title in his 10-year career and avenged a Finals loss to James and the Miami Heat in 2012 as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Durant was key to the Warriors' comeback in Game 3, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead 3-pointer over James with 45.3 seconds left. He was named Finals MVP after Golden State won the series in five games.

Last month, Durant told GQ that hitting the shot over James caused him to think: "I felt like he was passing the torch to me."

Durant added: "That was the best moment I ever had ... I made the game-winning shot in the Finals against my f---ing idol. Somebody that I really, really, really followed since I was a ninth-grade high schooler."

James, who told NBA TV's Steve Smith during a sit-down interview in February 2014 that he was "inspired" by Durant because he believed the scoring machine was "next" in line to be great, said that their career arcs -- Durant is 29, James turns 33 next week -- have kept that dynamic in place.

"I don't think it's changed," James said. "He's always kind of been the guy that has an opportunity to be next. I don't want to say 'next.' How many seasons is it for KD? It's not even like he's next. He's been here. He's been doing it at a high level for so long. So it's not even next or now or whatever the case may be. He's one of the best players that we have in the world, and he's proven that over and over again. So, it's not even next or now, it's like, he's here. He doesn't have to prove himself to anybody."

While Durant's standing in the game might have been secure with or without that Game 3 shot, it certainly was a memorable moment for all involved.

"It was a big-time shot," said James, who went on to become the first player in Finals history to average a triple-double for the series, albeit in a losing effort. "It was a big-time shot. I wish I could have that play over again. I was a little bit too far off of him. I still got a great contest, but I was still too far off of him. So, I wish I could have that play back, but you can't. But it was a big-time moment for him, obviously. They played exceptionally well last year in the Finals. He was definitely the difference-maker."

Monday's Christmas Day rematch will be missing some of the rivalry's biggest names -- two-time MVP Stephen Curry is out with an ankle injury, while newly acquired Cavs guard Isaiah Thomas also is out. Thomas still awaits his season debut as he recovers from a torn labrum in his hip. But James acknowledged the excitement the matchup conjures up regardless.

"Absolutely," James said. "You would be unhuman if it didn't. But obviously, this is a new format, this is a new team for us. We're still trying to continue to put things together and put pieces together. But yeah, you would be unhuman if you played three straight Finals versus a team and you felt nothing when you went out on the floor against them. So absolutely."

It will be the 12th Christmas Day game of James' 15-year career and the eighth he has played on the road.

"I've had a lot of games that kind of stood out," James said, reflecting on the holiday hoops he has played. "I mean, playing in the Staples Center is always a treat. I've never had an opportunity to play in the Garden, but playing in the Staples Center, I've been there quite a few times. So, it's kind of always fun to be in L.A. and play in front of that crowd and have that atmosphere. So, I've only had probably four games at home out of the 12, so, but being in the Staples Center has always been pretty good."

Some people might construe these comments by James, who can become a free agent this summer, as him leaving another clue about his potential interest in joining theLakers. However, there are other reasons to mention the Christmas games in L.A. One was against Kobe Bryant when both players were in the primes of their careers. Another took place when Bryant was injured as James and the Heat rolled through in the midst of a dominant run and James caught a one-handed alley-oop off the glass from Dwyane Wade to complete a play that still makes it onto James highlight mixes on Instagram.

"That ranks probably one or two of my best Christmas Day moments, for sure," James said.

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