Brian Windhorst dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Wednesday to discuss his new book, “Return of the King: LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Greatest Comeback in NBA history,” which details the Cavs’ 2015-16 NBA title.
Cleveland, of course, overcame a 3-1 Finals deficit against Golden State, the greatest regular-season team in NBA history. Windhorst, who has covered James since The Chosen One’s prep days at St. Vincent-St. Mary, knew this was a wonderful opportunity to write a book.
“The way that series went down was such an incredible story,” Windhorst said on Tiki and Tierney. “And because there was this euphoria that happened, as you could imagine, for the three months afterwards when these guys would be willing to do interviews about it – I don’t think I could get these interviews today, but they were on the top of the world. . . . I know that some people are afraid of books because they think they’re tell-alls and everything, but this is where you want to tell all because at the end, at the last page, you win. (I told the guys), ‘I promise you that on the last page, you’re going to win.’ . . . I could probably do 10 more books in my career. I will never get the cooperation on people telling little details and stories that I got on this.”
James, of course, left Cleveland for Miami in 2010 and led the Heat to two NBA titles before returning to the Cavs in 2014.
“Oh, he was hated,” Windhorst said of James’ 2010 departure. “It’s a multi-stage thing. First of all, you got to realize that Cleveland has been in decline since the ’60s. A lot of people and companies and jobs have been leaving for a while. Then in 1995, the Cleveland Browns left. And once that happened, there is just this scar. I was 17 teas old. There is this scar that developed, and it just really made Cleveland super sensitive about this sort of thing. So to have not just a star player, but to have somebody who was raised near there leave opened a lot of old wounds – and the way he did it made it easier to hate him. I’m a believer that even if he had a fireside chat and poured his heart out and cried that many people would have hated him. He wouldn’t have been hated across the country the way he was hated in Cleveland . . . but there is no good way for LeBron to have left Cleveland. But obviously the way he did it was not the best.”
But now that James is back and led the Cavs to a title? All is forgiven.
“Winning the championship, in my mind, has cemented his legacy,” Windhorst said. “I think they should name a street after him. I don’t think they should wait. I think they should put the statue up right now. I’m making a joke, but . . . he’s won more championships that anybody in Cleveland has for 50 years. I’d name the plaza outside the arena after him tomorrow afternoon.”
James leading the Cavs to another title would further cement his legacy. Cleveland (51-30), however, is 10-13 since March 1.
“Just being around them recently, they’re not having any fun,” Windhorst said. “(They need something to rally around). I don’t think it’s been the greatest job by Ty Lue, but he’s still a very young coach. If you look at the history of defending champs in the NBA . . . there tends to be this sort of letdown. Not always. Sometimes champs are awesome and they’re better defending than the first time around, but this team’s particular persona seems to be they’re enjoying their championship still.”
The Cavs appeared to right the ship when they beat the Celtics, 114-91, in Boston on April 5. Since then, however, they’ve lost three straight.
“That actually worked against them because it just reinforced that they can float by and when they need to hit the gas, ‘Okay, we’ll hit the gas and win a game,’” Windhorst said. “It’s a terrible habit. It will probably end up catching up with them, but they’re like, ‘Who cares what our record is? If we got to play these guys on the road in the playoffs, who cares? We can beat them.’ Frankly, when you were down 3-1 to the Warriors and you came back and won that series no matter what circumstance there was, it’s pretty hard to scare you straight in a regular-season situation.”
Still, do the Cavs have what it takes to repeat?
“They say they (want to repeat, but) their actions to this point have not demonstrated a team that is completely focused on winning a championship,” Windhorst said. “That said, they are still the most talented team in the East, and things happen and this could be saved. If you start making a proclamation in the NBA at this time of year, you can look foolish.”
James, 32, is having another MVP-caliber season. He is averaging 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists for the Cavs, but Father Time, as we all know, is undefeated.
How many more years does James have left in him?
“His son is 13 years old and looks like he’s going to be an NBA player,” Windhorst said. “Now a thousand things have to happen for that to take place, but it would be six years before he could get to the NBA. If LeBron could get six more years at age 38 – I don’t think he wakes up every day (and thinks about it), but Duke and Kansas and North Carolina have offered his son. He wants to get some more titles, but I think in the back of his mind, he’s like, ‘I wonder if I could hold out and I wonder if he could make it.’ I think he’d like to help his son do it and help himself make it to that mark.”