(Reuters) - LeBron James admired the Golden State Warriors’ record-setting season but he is more focused on a burning desire to make his own mark in title-starved Cleveland and those same Warriors could stand in his way.
The four-time league Most Valuable Player left a solid Miami Heat team in 2014 to return to his homestate Cleveland Cavaliers in a bid to take care of some unfinished business and deliver the city its first professional sports title since 1964.
However, frustration has since seeped into the feel-good storyline, leading to speculation that the clock may be ticking on the 31-year-old James’ quest for a happy ending in Northeast Ohio.
Golden State and sharpshooter Stephen Curry spoiled James’ script in last season’s NBA Finals when they overcame a 2-1 series deficit to won the championship in six games on Cleveland’s home court.
The Warriors have been even better this season, going one better than the previous NBA-best regular season mark of 72-10 set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls
James has dropped his death glare game-face a number of times this season, prompting some observers to wonder if he is losing faith in his ability to become Cleveland’s sports savior.
”I can say that I actually got to witness some history,“ James told reporters when asked about the Warriors tying the Bulls mark with one game to play. ”I remember the ‘95-96 (Chicago) team ...
”To actually be in the league now while they’re setting this record, have the opportunity to set this record, it would be something I can talk about later in life.”
James, an All-Star the last 12 seasons, made an emotional return to Ohio dedicated to bringing the region their first pro championship since the Cleveland Browns ruled the NFL in 1964.
James took an overmatched Cavs team to the NBA Finals in his first tenure with the club, and now might be wondering if the roster or chemistry is good enough to beat the high flying teams of the Western Conference, most notably the Warriors.
While his partnership with close friend Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh led to two NBA titles and two runner-up finishes in four South Beach seasons, James seems less confident in his synergy with Big Three partners Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
Desperation to win in Cleveland was evident earlier this season when second-year coach David Blatt was fired despite the Cavs having the best record in the conference after going to the NBA Finals in Blatt’s first season.
He was replaced by Tyronn Lue, who two months later chided James for joking around on court with Wade during intermission of a Miami-Cleveland game instead of warming up with the Cavs trailing by 21.
“I just told him we can’t have that, being down like we were and him being the leader,” Lue told cleveland.com. “Just me being a competitor, I didn’t like it. We had a long talk about it. It was good. He understood, he apologized.”
The question of focus heated up again when James was quoted in a Bleacher Report feature published last month saying he fancied the idea of one day teaming up with good friends Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul.
“I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together,” said James. “At least one, maybe one or two seasons - me, Melo, D-Wade, CP - we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that.”
For now, James’ target is a sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals, this time ending with a championship party in Cleveland.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue