Homecoming King

It usually starts with comparisons: Jordan, Magic, Oscar.

It’s really the only reference point fans have. But LeBron James – with his combination of physical and cerebral skills – is really like no other ballplayer, past or present.

On Sunday afternoon at a packed James A. Rhodes Arena in his hometown, LeBron received his second straight Most Valuable Player award – taking 116 out of 122 first place votes and winning in the biggest runaway since his teammate Shaquille O’Neal took the honors in 1999-2000.

Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard were the only other players to receive first place votes.

LeBron’s numbers, as always, were off the charts in 2009-10.

He averaged 29.7 points, 7.3 boards and a career-high 8.6 assists. The six-time All-Star led the NBA in road scoring (31.0 ppg), second half scoring (14.9) and fourth quarter scoring (8.0).

He was the first forward in NBA history to average over eight assists per game and his 7.0 average is the highest of any forward all-time.

That number is what truly separates James from the game’s other greats. He’s not merely the best player; he’s the best teammate.

“The MVP award, most people look at that as an individual thing,” said Coach Mike Brown. “I know LeBron, I know his teammates. They don’t look at it that way. I don’t. He has a great group of guys sitting there, and they came out to show their support today.”

Brown added: “Good teams have great players. Great teams have good teammates. And that’s what we have here.”

“One thing I learned early is that the game of basketball is not won by an individual, it’s won by a team. LeBron James can’t do it by himself; I need those 14 other guys,” said James, before joking, “They put up with my stuff and I put up with their crap, too.”

LeBron distributed the love as evenly as he distributes the ball to those teammates. He spoke fondly of his friends, his uncles, his coaches. James gave countless credit to his girlfriend, Savannah Brinson, and his two young sons, LeBron Jr. and Bryce Maximus. (“Every day that I wake up, I understand that not only do I have myself, but also you two guys. And I refuse to let our last name be put down by my actions.”)

But, as he did last season, James always gives the most credit to his mother, Gloria.

“For her to be able to raise me by herself – I’m not saying she didn’t have help along the way – but for a woman at 16 years old to raise a son at that age is an unbelievable feat.”

LeBron is always the first to assert that he’s not about individual accolades. So, despite playing entire blocks of the season without Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mo Williams, Delonte West or Leon Powe – the Cavaliers’ constant still led the Wine and Gold to the best record in the NBA for the second straight season.

As he did when he won the MVP last year, LeBron wanted to accept the award in front of his home fans and flanked by his teammates. The venue grew from the St. Vincent-St. Mary’s gym to the J.A.R. If he takes his third straight, could the U. of Akron’s new InfoCision Stadium be next?

“We were thinking about having it there,” quipped LeBron. “But we didn’t know about the weather and didn’t want it to rain on my parade.”

As a two-time winner of the award, James joins such NBA royalty as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan. Only 12 players total have won the award multiple times, only 10 have won it in consecutive seasons.

That list of luminaries brings us back to comparisons. For all the list of greats to whom Number 23 is equated, none has all the tools that he does. Karl Malone had his brute force, Oscar had his vision and Jordan had his gift of flight. But the lethal combination that makes LeBron James is unique.

What all those players do share, however, is the overwhelming desire to win. And winning is the real gift that LeBron brought with him when he joined the Wine and Gold in 2003. The Cavaliers are the only team to advance into the Conference Semifinals in each of the past five seasons.

“It’s easy to build a culture of winning when your best player is your hardest worker,” said Cavs GM Danny Ferry. “The city of Akron, Northeast Ohio – we’re really lucky to have someone who represents us to the world the way he does.”

At just 25 years of age, LeBron is in the Basketball Hall of Fame if he doesn’t play another minute of NBA basketball. Luckily for Cavalier fans, the two-time Most Valuable Player will be logging many more minutes, beginning with Game 2 of the Wine and Gold’s Second Round series against the Celtics.