Before he could finish high school, he was proclaimed “King James.” After officially being an adult for only half a year, he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He dazzled basketball fans with his pure and utter strength along with powerful, Shawn Kemp-esque dunks as he became Rookie of the Year. The next six years of his life were spent in the state he was born, yet they were spent unfulfilled. Empty. Not one NBA Finals victory. Not one ring. Then, the “Decision” supervened. The man made the toughest decision he could have made in today’s world, forcing all of us to tell him how erroneously he was going about his life. To join forces with fellow All-Stars goes against the established grain of the NBA yesteryear and should be considered unbecoming of an upper tier player in the game. But he took his talents to South Beach. As the Dallas Mavericks’ veteran “team” took down the heavy favorites in the 2011 NBA Finals and he failed to make any sort of impact when each successive game came to a dramatic close, people coming from all levels of credibility began to point out the weakness in LeBron. The apathy. The lack of meaningful jewelry. From the first day of this season to the very last, the man didn’t look to be on a mission – he was on a mission. He was on a journey to learn from his failures and improve the facets of his game. He was on an expedition to find what has seemingly been lost for nine interminable years of distressful aspiring. The King was on a quest for his ring.
LeBron Raymone James claimed his ring.
“This is a dream come true for me.”
The Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 on Thursday night to bring the Heat organization their second championship in franchise history. Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Pat Riley were a part of the first Heat team that won it all in 2006.
The Heat outplayed the Thunder in Game 5 in every way possible – literally. They had more rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, points in the paint and points off turnovers along with a better field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. This led to the least competitive game of a series many believed would go 6 or 7 games and gave 39-year-old Juwan Howard a chance to get in an NBA Finals game.
The Big 3 that came together just two summers ago has proven to be worth the constant hatred for attempting to “buy a championship.” Wade (20 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, two steals) and Chris Bosh (24 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) looked as determined as James to cap off two years of struggling and working to discover the just-right team chemistry that would work for such a top-heavy team.
In the end, these two helped out their third member by stepping to the side, which isn’t east for two players that had been the face a of franchise up to that point in their career. Stuart Scott even asked Wade a question after the confetti had fallen, mentioning how he couldn’t do it on his own and had to “defer” to LeBron James in order to win his second ring. However, Wade didn’t even think twice about agreeing with him. Bosh might have considered by Erik Spoelstra, who has instantly gone from being an overrated coach to a deserving champion, as his most important player, but realize this man never got to sit at the postgame press conference table with James and Wade. Back in the locker room was his personal home to provide quotations.
Undoubtedly, the back-to-back 2003 early draft picks were the second and third best players for the majority of their minutes on the court behind the No. 1 drafted player from that year. They knew it, they accepted it and they prospered because of it.
The surprise of the night came from none other than Mike Miller who fulfilled the Heat’s goal of having one player in each game find it in himself to not play like himself. The man averaging only two points per game up to Game 5 that looked to be losing the ability to walk exploded for 23 points on 7-8 shooting from the 3-point line after making no 3-pointers in the first four games. There is no way of explaining this odd but consistent pattern of unexpected contributors from the Heat, but it certainly turned their squad into the deeper team since James Harden never seemed to leave Oklahoma City, finishing up the worse series of his career.
After pouring in 43 points on an outrageously efficient 20-32 shooting from the field in Game 4, Russell Westbrook failed to come close to those type of numbers as he trudged to the end of the Finals. The growing and electrifying point guard shot 4-20 from the field and reverted to the player that has been so often attacked for his volume shooting and incorrect approach to his position. Yes, he is a point guard who must create for his teammates and learn to make the “correct decision” more times than not. Even with this dreaded ending to his season and the adjustments he will be told to make, the upside of this team reflects directly onto Westbrook; they will both only get smarter and better with age.
The award for winningest loser goes to none other than Kevin Durant. It feels redundant to constantly use the same description for the three-time scoring champ but it fits too well. Pure scorer. The ex-Longhorn put up 32 points on 13-24 shooting from the field and also grabbed 11 rebounds in a valiant attempt to save his team’s season for one more game.
This was simply another night for Durant who averaged 30.6 points on 54.8 percent shooting in his five Finals games. Scoring has never been an issue for Durantula. Turnovers, however, continued to be a clear problem as it ended up being for the entire series. He finished with seven turnovers, helping the Heat score their 29 points off turnovers. He may seem to be coming into form on the offensive end of the court, but Durant has plenty to work on defensively as that is the next asset he needs to add to his game. If he implements solid defense into his system while still scoring at a breakneck speed, this man will turn into one special NBA player.
This Thunder team isn’t finished. Since every single key contributor (except newcomer Derek Fisher) will be on the roster to start the 2012-2013 season, they are the new Miami Heat. After a successful, highlight-filled season in which they looked unbreakable and unstoppable coming off four straight wins against the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs, all the team chemistry, all the shooters’ rolls, all the clutch plays seemed to fall to the wayside. It seemed as though they didn’t have enough experience to thrive when the lights shined brightest. These painful and arduous four straight losses will mature this squad, just as Miami kept the 2011 Finals in the back of their minds throughout these playoffs. Losing to the future NBA champions in three consecutive playoffs certainly has an upside to a team’s development. So, don’t be surprised if Durant and Westbrook begin dressing and acting like never before.
Even though there can be plenty of fingers to point at the Thunder or backs to pat on the Heat, don’t be confused; this night belongs to the NBA Finals MVP. Putting together his first triple-double of the year with 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, James capped off one of the most dominant playoff performances ever – he had not one bad 2012 playoff games – with an artistic finish. Only three other players (James Worthy, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson) in NBA history have registered a triple-double in a title-clinching game and only two other players (Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan) have led their team in points, rebounds and assists during the NBA Finals.
Without watching this man play basketball, it sounds as if I’m simply going on and on about a player I love dearly. (If you know me, I know you’re confused up to this point.) However, I am in no way a LeBron James fan. In fact, for the most part, I have found myself on the other end of the spectrum, criticizing the one gargantuan flaw in his complex game. But he has proven me and the rest of his doubters utterly wrong.
A single game can’t represent an entire season for one player, but Game 5 came exceptionally close. James scored. James rebounded. James assisted. James defended. James stole. James blocked. James led the way to an NBA championship through not only his stellar gameplay but his demeanor. Countless times throughout the game, he gave one of his teammates a look to simply calm down because “hey, I have waited way too long for this to let it get away from me now.” Unlike last year, there were no baseline celebrations between James and Wade until the series was in their grasp. Oh, and you know all those 3-pointers that all of a sudden began to fall for Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers who combined to shoot 23-49 from deep? They shot 3-32 with LeBron on the bench. That’s 9 percent.
Realize this: he is the greatest athlete to play a professional sport during my lifetime. He possesses the perfect combination of power, speed and skill which allows him to dominate any aspect of the game. To add onto these skills, he has the proficiency to control all of these attributes, whether on the ground or in the air. How else can you explain his ability to effectively guard every single Boston Celtics’ starting five in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals or score 29 of his team’s last 30 points in a 2007 Eastern Conference Finals game?
When James wasn’t deferring last year during the regular season or particularly during the Finals, he tended to take and miss leaning 3-point shots during crucial possessions. These type of shots have never been kind to him. Never shooting 80 percent from the free throw line or 36 percent from behind the 3-point line, it seemed as though this characteristic could possibly hold him back from growing into his full potential and make him the best player to never win a title.
But he learned from this. By adding a necessary post-up game to his skilset last offseason, LeBron found a way to take to heart the criticism people loved to provide him and develop his already forceful impact. He went on to shoot an astonishing 53.1 percent from the field and 130 less 3-pointers on the year. He didn’t ignore his struggles from deep; he simply adjusted his gameplay to better suit his strengths – mainly, his strength. This allowed his game to be expanded as he averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals during a third regular season MVP campaign. He gave it all he had as he accumulated 3,310 minutes this season; only 11 other players put in more the previous season – a full-length season.
Even before the playoffs began, he established himself as the best basketball player in the world. No one else can even imagine playing at his level. Not even Kobe Bryant. Not even Kevin Durant (yet). Even so, none of this could be discussed in a positive manner. The accolades, the dominance, the success just built up more pressure for James to do what he has been told he is obligated to do.
Win. A. Championship.
James has been living with this burden since he came into the league. Magazines could be found across the nation with 17-year-old LeBron in his green, gold and white St. Mary High School uniform. When greatness can be predicted that early in a kid’s life, pressure is inevitable. And the side-effects have shown.
Throughout the early part of his career, he seemed to play with expectations unlike any other athlete has ever received. (The fact that Twitter, Facebook and our social media world emerged faster than LeBron didn’t help him here.) Additionally, James was perceived to lack the one quality that seems to just go along with being great – clutch play. The scrutiny seemed to effect his play when his team needed him most, and this caused even more scrutiny to come onto the scene.
It has never been greater than this year. He came up [insert degrading adjective here] during the 2011 NBA Finals, and if he followed that up with yet another season without a title, who knows what would have happened to Mr. James’ sanity. Or his hairline.
But as has already been said and this picture clearly depicts, he was on a mission. After being down in three of the four (does anyone even remember that Knicks series?) series, LeBron did what he couldn’t do last year under pressure – he responded when his number was called.
39 points and 13.7 rebounds.
That’s what he averaged in the three games after his team went down in a series. His team won all three games. Clutch.
He never seemed to step off the gas pedal in every series, every game and every play. Furthermore, the way in which he talked about his game and his mission differed from the past. No longer did he speak on eggshells or have a “me against the world” mentality. He wanted to do his best and do what was necessary for the team to succeed. His journey had the same “X” at the end of the path, but the way in which he traveled changed dramatically. He found his “X.”
James has now tracked down that elusive ring and stopped the constant scrutiny of his every move. The great Michael Jordan once discussed how a player can take his game to a place he has never seen once he wins his first championship. It’s as if the game becomes slower, shots become easier and pressure becomes lesser. Once a player gets into this distinctive club, his membership can never be rendered invalid.
Taking into account the new realm of the NBA world that opens up to any player that obtains that first title, apply this to No. 6 – the man with all the pressure. For the first time in the prime part of his NBA career, he will initially be a backstory to the likes of Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant as they search for what he recently discovered.
Now, here comes the outrageous but honest-to-goodness reality: this is the not the best LeBron James we will see.
With an advanced attitude to take to work everyday, the Miami superstar can simply play for the joy of the game rather than the obligation to reach the peak of the mountain. It’s all downhill from here. Can you even imagine him playing basketball without a ring? I still can’t.
That’s the LeBron that will soon be around the corner. That’s the LeBron that will get to start an NBA season without answering questions regarding his chances of doing better than his last postseason failure.
Even though the physical part to his game has reached close to its max, the mental part broke through a door that could only be unlocked in one way with one key. Many have attempted to get through this door by using their own brute force or jimmying the lock, but as James can attest to, there is only one way in.
With the physical and mental part of his games coming close to reaching their full potential, we are on the brink of seeing something no one has laid eyes upon – the best player to ever play the game.
I know, call it blasphemy. Go tell Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen so they can set me in my place.
But seriously. After playing commanding basketball for nine years and validating his legacy in the league in one of the mosts tenacious and commanding ways possible, the 27-year-old – let me repeat, 27-year-old – understands he doesn’t have to settle for being the best current player in the league. A switch has been flipped in his head, and he knows that he has the capability to do monumental things in his vocation. He has joined a team built for not one, not two, but multiple championships. He promised it himself! And as the cliché saying goes, “the first championship is the hardest one to get.”
So just know, you’ve been warned. You will still see LeBron inundating the news media, but this time, it will be solely because of his incomparable play.
For now, though, LeBron doesn’t have to think about his performances, his goals or his comparisons to the greats anymore. Well, if he wants to, it will make him happy this time around. But LeBron can live in the moment and be thankful that he is a part of the organization that won the 2012 NBA championship.
“All I know is I’m a champion. That’s all that matters.”
Well said, champ. Well said.
Ignite the Site!