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LeBron James

LeBron James has become America's underdog. The former King of the Evil Empire in Miami will now try to topple the new one in Oakland.

Sure, James has been an underdog on paper before, but never like this. The Warriors have opened as favorites for the fourth consecutive year in the NBA Finals, but the storylines were different. In 2015, James had returned to Cleveland and was the proven winner looking to expose an unproven upstart (and he almost did). In 2016, the Warriors were a 73-9 powerhouse, but the King had a healthy roster and a grudge (and won). In 2017, the Warriors added Kevin Durant, but the Cavaliers were still the defending champs.

This 2018 narrative is one in its own. And for Cleveland, it is astonishing.

The Cavs have been treading water since January. The last time they played the Warriors, they lost 118-108 at home on Jan. 15 to cap a stretch of eight losses in 10 games. The roster was turned over a few weeks later. While the Warriors seemed to go at half-speed in the regular season, the Cavs had to grind just for home court in the first round. At age 33, James played 82 games for the first time in his career. Not one of the Warriors' big four played more than 73.

The Cavs have been exposed in the playoffs -- if you can say that for a No. 4 seed. They needed seven games to get past both the Pacers and Celtics in what appeared to be one of the weakest Eastern Conference fields ever -- and that's staying a lot.

James could barely stand after the Cavs finally overcame the Celtics last Sunday night. Every time the Skip Bayless sect of the media writes James off, he comes back again. His 612 points this postseason are the most for any player in history entering the NBA Finals. At time against Indiana and Boston, it was exhausting just to watch James will himself to score points.

Almost eight years ago, James shocked the world with "The Decision" to go to the Heat. For four years in Miami, he was King of the Evil Empire. No, the Heat didn't win it all every year, but they were the NBA's greatest villain from the day James set foot in South Beach to the day he left. James had constructed a superteam, he'd cut corners, he'd given fans across the nation a common foe to root against. He sacrificed his prodigy-next-door reputation in Cleveland for the malevolence of Pat Riley.

Now the Warriors have evolved into the villain. Three years ago, Stephen Curry was the darling of the basketball world. Steve Kerr figured out how to make the 3-point shot work for a championship team, and the Warriors became rock stars on tour from October-June. That shine has worn off. Signing Kevin Durant in 2016 and mailing in the regular season this year have contributed to that.

Fans are restless. This NBA Finals seems ruined. It's the Warriors and Cavs once again and the Warriors should coast to victory. They have more firepower, stamina and depth. It almost doesn't feel like a fair fight.

There is only one way this NBA Finals can be saved. LeBron James needs to repeat what he just did in Indiana and Boston. He needs to overcome a roster that is the leanest it has been on talent since the day he went back to Cleveland. There is no Kyrie Irving. There might be a limited Kevin Love. (And there's no James Jones!)

LeBron James, Kevin Durant

James needs to deliver one more superhuman performance just to give us an enjoyable NBA Finals, let alone a Cavaliers' title. At 33. After playing 100 games already.

"Chosen One" and "King" aren't usually synonyms for underdog, but 2018 is different. There is no way to wiggle in an argument favoring LeBron. He is David and the Warriors are Goliath. There is only one constant: We are all witnesses again. Just, in a different way than before.

The best player in the world (and arguably of all time) will play a series with nothing to lose. Eight years ago, he was the player to root against. Today, he is the player to root for. 

It's a kid from Northeast Ohio against a tech giant from Silicon Valley. You can tweet your hate for LeBron all you want. But deep down, America loves an underdog.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.