Previously On...The NBA: Season Fifteen.

The 2018-19 NBA season is finally here. Excitement is brewing as we have had a whirlwind offseason with quite a few storylines. Expectations and predictions guaranteed to be incorrect are being hurled ad infinitum. Even here at TSFJ, we are preparing to get back on our NBA journey. But let's not move on so quickly from last year. Some things happened that deserve one final mention before the new year tips off. Think of it like a TV show that provides a recap of past events before a new episode.

Previously On...The NBA: LeBron James's Fifteenth Season. 

What words are left to describe the best player of this generation? For arguably the best basketball player ever, with the argument constantly growing more cemented in his favor, how does one write about anything in LeBron James' immaculate career? For this, I decided to look back at last season; for it was a year of newness and familiar excellence.

We must begin with the moment Kyrie Irving was traded to the Boston Celtics. Rumors swirled that Irving was unhappy being second fiddle to LeBron. Prince in an empire, even one as dominant as LeBron's, did not meet the lofty aspirations Irving had set for himself. Enter the Celtics, who traded their injured and fan favorite point guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas wouldn't be ready to play until January, so LeBron is immediately down an All-Star caliber perimeter playmaker. The Cavaliers brought in Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, but both players were years removed from the elite versions of themselves. This put more onus on LeBron to do what he does best: ensure everyone gets their best shots through his gravitas.

To me, there was a feeling around LeBron that we have been taking him for granted. Greatness seems to be a concept we acknowledge because of the required longevity, but we still place margins around it. Greatness must look a certain way as if a version of greatness doesn't perfectly fit in our mold, we discredit it in some way. LeBron James is a great basketball player. His biggest detractors cannot dispute that. But part of the reason why we take LeBron for granted is because we have a distorted view of what greatness should look like — instead of letting greatness define itself.

Losing a superstar in Kyrie Irving, team injuries, trades, inconsistency and age did not stop Lebron James from playing in every game last year and having one of his best seasons ever. (SLAM Online)

The other side of that is — and this is the most interesting part of it to me — is that we pick and choose when greatness has risen to its fullest potential and when said greatness could have done more to triumph. Last year, when Cleveland played mediocre basketball the first few weeks, we doubted whether or not Cleveland (read, LeBron) could win the conference; even though LeBron James has played in every NBA Finals this decade, faith still wavered weeks into the year. With the knowledge that every team has to figure out its identity, and that Cleveland was still waiting on players to heal from injury in order to figure that out, we still doubted the best basketball player in the world and his ability to be the ultimate life preserver — one which he has been his entire career.

Season Fifteen, as the great Dr. Kenneth Masenda and I called it, alongside naming it the "LeBron James 'Y'all Musta Forgot Excellence' Tour," was arguably his toughest challenge. Though we are firmly entrenched in the Golden State Warriors' reign, we still believed LeBron should at least make it to the Finals, regardless of the construct of his team. When Cleveland sent Thomas, Wade, Rose and three other players to various teams and acquired George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., LeBron had an entirely different team with a different collection of skills that needed to mesh together in a couple months before the playoffs. LeBron was as steady and effective as he'd ever been, racking up career highs in assists while maintaining a 25 point-per-game average for the thirteenth consecutive season. He had yet to miss a game, and would not miss one the rest of the year, for the first time in his career, in his fifteenth season. At age 33, he redefined individual greatness.

Yes, Season Fifteen resulted in another Finals loss to the Warriors. But along the way, there were struggles in the regular season. He needed seven games to beat the Indiana Pacers in the first round. He then responded and continued his dominance over the Raptors, as the Cavaliers swept Toronto in the second round. He trailed in an Eastern Conference series for the first time in years, and it looked bleak for Cleveland against the Boston Celtics. In the seventh game, the hundredth game of his season, he played every minute of the game to ensure his place in the Finals for an eighth straight year. He used his greatness to overcome, and that was partially met with some of us wondering why he had to struggle to overcome "lowly" conference opponents.

How does a man who has climbed to the highest team and individual peaks of basketball continue to improve? What does improvement look like for the player who sits atop the NBA realm as a one-man dynastic living legend? Even in the ideal of ranking players based on greatness, we seem to want to find blemishes on the record in an effort to create a hierarchy of greatness. Our perspectives tend to push us towards finding as many faults in great things, while simultaneously wanting those great things to continue to be great. Sports doesn't allow for long-term perfection. And even greatness on the court fades with longevity. What we should do, instead, is shift our perspective into understanding that we have demanded greatness from James since he was 18 years old, and he has more than exceeded those demands in a way that we sometimes fail to understand.

LeBron James did not win MVP. He did not win a fourth championship last year. But what he did in the 2017-18 season is nothing short of who and what he is: great. Long live The King.

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