As time ran out at The Oracle Sunday night, history was everywhere. LeBron James fulfilled his promise to the "The Land," bringing his hometown its first NBA championship and its first pro sports championship in 52 years. The defending champs had won 73 games but couldn't win a title, forever settling the argument of who was the greatest NBA team of all-time. It wasn't Golden State.
And there was Richard Jefferson, who turns 36 years old Tuesday, on the court with a sobbing King. It was, he said post-game, his final professional game, the end of a 15-year career that started on Draft Night in 2001 when Rod Thorn engineered a trade that sent the rights to Eddie Griffin to Houston for RJ, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong. The trade was greeted with boos.
Jefferson's retirement put an end to the Jason Kidd era. He was the last player from the 2002 and 2003 Eastern Conference championship to hang them up. RJ also joined two of his former Nets teammates with a ring. Brian Scalabrine won one with the Celtics in 2008 and Kidd won one with the Mavericks three years later. It was sweet for a player who been oh, so close, so many times. In a way he personified Cleveland.
"I’ll give you a little walk down right now. I lost the national championship game to Duke, then I lost two straight NBA Finals, then my third year we lost to [the] Detroit [Pistons] after being up 3-2 and they won the championship, then I lost to [the] Miami [Heat] and they won the championship, then to top it off I went to the Olympics and we were the worst team of all time. My whole career has been so, so close. Then I had a stretch of six to seven years where you become a little bit of a journeyman."
He turned out to be critical to the Cavaliers' success in the Finals, averaging 5.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 24 minutes per game. He gave Cleveland a spark when stepping in for a concussion-sidelined Kevin Love in a Game 3 start, and acted as a key role-playing cog in the Cavalier small-ball lineup, as Dan Devine of Yahoo! noted.
With that on his resume, Jefferson could no doubt earn a big one-year deal in the TV rights era, but money isn't an issue for him. He's earned $110 million over his 15 years in the league and according to more than one source, invested wisely.
For Nets fans, RJ will always be that hyper-athletic, defense-oriented piece on the J-Kidd machine. In seven seasons, before he was traded for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons in 2008, Jefferson averaged 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists, improving his shooting as he went along.
Farewell and congratulations on a great career that ended just the way it should have.