Welcome to the new world, LeBron James. We have sunshine, double rainbows, a moonbounce, the special kind of Kool-aid that only really tastes good when you were a kid because it’s really just pure sugar and a NBA Championship. Soak it in and enjoy it because — and I mean this — you deserve it.
Wrapping up what should have been a highly contested, back-and-forth, seven-game series in almost quick fashion, the Heat lost only game one to the Thunder. LeBronJames was nothing short of brilliant in this playoff run. He easily coasted to a Finals MVP, averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists, while playing nearly 44 minutes per game and clinching the series at home with a very dominant triple double.
This was the same player who was washed out in four games by the Spurs in 2007, a player whose toughness and tenacity were questioned by fans and teammates during an Eastern Conference finals against Boston. This is the player who created a media storm by leaving his team in what was seen as one of the most heinous and selfish acts in sports. This is the same player who infamously guaranteed multiple championships in a garish display of indulgence and shrank in the biggest spotlight of his career in last year’s NBA finals. It was the same player but not the same man.
So much had been made about LeBron’s ability or inability to be the NBA’s supreme alpha male that we lost sight of what was actually transpiring on the court. Instead of seeing the young, brash and immature player with notoriously thin skin and desire to shrink away from the spotlight, we bore witness to what LeBron was truly capable of.
While the interest of the spectators strayed to the Clippers, the Thunder or the Bulls, Miami was becoming the team it had promised itself to be. They very quietly began to develop their role players, created one of the most smothering defenses in the NBA and cast more well-defined roles for their superstar cast of Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. They learned on the fly, adjusted quickly and played great basketball all year long on the back of yet another MVP year for James.
The playoffs were the biggest answer LeBron would have for his critics. Long held to an under-performing standard, which he cemented with poor play and disappearing acts in the biggest moments, LeBron James finally discovered the all-important and much ballyhooed “CLUTCH.” With his team’s back against the wall twice in the playoffs, once against the Indiana Pacers and again against the Boston Celtics, LeBron answered with two of the biggest games of his career. He took over games. Game 6 against Boston will forever be etched in James’ legacy as simply one of those moments when a superstar puts his team on his back and carries them to victory. It changed the tide of the series with LeBron hitting19 of 26, scoring 45 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Much changed about him in that moment and a great many questions about his resolve were answered, but there was still one looming goal to achieve.
Perhaps the biggest reason, besides the inevitable “We Hate LeBron” backlash, so many were picking the Thunder to overtake the more seasoned Miami Heat was simply because basketball at its core is still a team sport. Miami might have some of the best individual players, but Oklahoma was a fully actualized team at its best. Oklahoma took down the San Antonio Spurs quickly in rolling through the playoffs without losing a game at home, while Miami struggled against so many more well-rounded clubs. So, it wasn’t overly surprising to envision how the Thunder would be able to take care of business and deny LeBron his title. It was perceived as a tough, scrappy fight, an obvious seven-game series. And if Miami couldn’t close, Kevin Durant was ready to be the new king of the NBA.
And yet, there is LeBron James, holding up an NBA title, standing next to the great Bill Russell, and saying, “It’s about damn time.” His stats outside of Game 5′s triple double weren’t exploding off the screen, his biggest shot of theseries was a very quiet pullup for a 10-foot bank shot in Game 3 in the winding seconds. His highest shooting percentage was .500. Yet it’s what a superstar does with his team that makes him achieve greatness.
Three of Michael Jordan’s greatest plays were dump passes to Jon Paxson, Steve Kerr and Tony Kukoc. You can remember him for all the amazing dunks, steals and time defying jumpshots you want, but it was his ability to elevate the play of the people around him that won him championships. Miami won its championship because the Heat played as a better and more cohesive team than the Thunder for nearly the entire series. The thing that was their undoing against the Mavericks just a year ago became their greatest strength: great fundamental, small ball, smart basketball. Drawing fouls and completing the shots, LeBron went 12-for-12 from the line in Game 2 and was 83 percent for the series. He got everyone involved in the act from Mario Chalmers to Mike Miller to Shane Battier. Everyone’s game became fully actualized, while the Thunder was reduced to almost wild shots and one-man spotlights.
LeBron James will almost always be the sports figure that we love to hate. It’s a role he has cast himself into and as much as he would probably like to deny it, winning this championship will do little to lessen it. However, there has to be an acknowledgement in the shift from this player. We loved to hate him before because he believed himself to be better than the establishment, someone who had elevated his name above the sport. We can fault “The Decision.” We can roll our eyes at the Nike ads, or we can talk about fairness of gathering talent like they had in Miami. We cannot doubt the man, though. We cannot take away his talent, his ability and his resolve. LeBron James in a three-time MVP, a NBA finals MVP, and a NBA Champion.