Tonight we all may witness the long-anticipated coronation of a basketball king.
I’m rooting for it to happen, as I’ve said before, because this is a unique sports opportunity.
We have a chance to take part in a truly transcendent talent realizing his vast potential while ascending to the apex of his sport.
LeBron Shifts Narrative With Play, Maturity
LeBron James and the Heat still need to win one more game of course, which will be easier said than done against a resilient Oklahoma City squad. But no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win a championship.
Tack on the game’s greatest talent playing at the highest level of his career, and it certainly seems unlikely that the Thunder can spoil LeBron’s ultimate crowning achievement.
But it wasn’t so long ago that this moment did not seem so inevitable. In fact, it seemed downright unlikely.
My how times have changed.
Just last season, the first of what was ostensibly to be six…or seven…or eight titles, the Heat melted down in the Finals against a Dallas Mavericks team that was everything Miami was not: poised, together, determined. Despite a 2-1 lead in the series, the Heat fell 4 games to 2, and it barely seemed that close.
It was further confirmation of the established narrative: that LeBron James was too immature, too “unclutch,” to ever lead his team to a title.
Never mind that LeBron carried this Cavs roster to the Finals. The 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Spurs entered the LeBron narrative as evidence against his clutchness.
Then there was the meltdown against Boston in his final act as a Cavalier, and his pass in the All Star game this year, and then, most recently, the series deficits to Indiana and Boston.
A funny thing happened in those Indiana and Boston series though. LeBron and the Heat finally found away to rise to the occasion rather than fade away.
LeBron and D-Wade asserted their will against an undermanned Pacers squad and finished that series with a flourish. Then LeBron rose up in Game 6 of the Celtics series and delivered a performance that we can already say will go down in his illustrious career as one of his best and most memorable.
And through four games in these Finals, LeBron has never been better, his dagger of a three pointer in Game 4 while dealing with massive leg cramps a perfect microcosm of the difference between 2012 LeBron and every other LeBron we’ve watched.
As a sports fan, LeBron’s growth has been quite pleasant to watch.
Make no mistake: LeBron has done annoying and even downright loathsome things in his role as basketball superstar. Just read Adrian Wojnarowski’s archive. He’s laid most of them out there.
The bizarre final performance as a Cavalier. The megalomania of The Decision. The championship counting with Wade and Bosh. The infantile mocking of Dirk Nowitzki’s cough in last year’s Finals.
I could go on and on, though you don’t need me to because the media has pounded each story line into submission. There are dead horses that sympathize with how much these story lines have been beaten.
But at what point do we allow a 20-something young man — a man who has dealt with more intense media, fan, family, and professional pressure in his lifetime than everyone who reads this article combined — to move past his mistakes?
For me it happens when that man develops the self-awareness to acknowledge his mistakes and does one of the hardest things for any man of any age: change.
Change is hard. LeBron James has changed.
This is what LeBron had to say yesterday, via the New York Post:
“Last year after Game 6, after losing, once again, I was very frustrated,” James said after recalling the loss in 2007 with Cleveland. “I was very hurt that I let my teammates down, and I was very immature. Last year I played to prove people wrong instead of just playing my game.
“One thing that I learned, and someone taught me this, the greatest teacher you can have in life is experience,” James said. “I’ve experienced some things in my long but short career, and I’m able to make it better of myself throughout these Playoffs and throughout this whole year, and that’s on and off the court.”
He has made similar comments throughout the year. He’s apologized for The Decision and acknowledge how foolhardy the title counting was. He’s taken the first steps in trying to build a bridge back to his spurned hometown, whether it will do any good or not. He has come to fully respect his God-given talents, and his role as a team and league leader, by bringing maximum focus and effort to his job every single night.
He has, finally, become what we all hoped he could somehow become back when he was just a potential-filled NBA draft prospect. Even then we all knew how great the potential was, but not until now has LeBron actually seemed on the cusp of fulfilling it.
I want to see it happen.
Are Heat’s ‘Big 3′ Really Villains?
It’s nothing against the Thunder. I love Kevin Durant. I love Russell Westbrook. I love the OKC fans. I once declared the Thunder my adopted NBA here on MSF. And frankly, I probably do root for them and the Mavericks (based on living in Dallas) more than any other teams.
And next year, I’ll want to see Durant and Westbrook get theirs. I’ll want to see the great OKC fans rewarded for their loud, dogged support of their franchise with a title.
But this year is different. This year is about LeBron.
And to a certain extent, this year is also about his partners in “crime” Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who have become sports enemies 1b and 1c with LeBron based on a few really dumb displays of foolish pride that have overshadowed the fact that these three guys are all, well, actually pretty decent guys.
I mean, we say we value team-first mindsets where winning trumps money. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh all took less money to play together in the ultimate quest of a championship, yet they were excoriated for it.
Bosh especially takes a lot of unnecessary Heat, mainly because we as sports fans can just be a cruel lot sometimes. Chris Bosh is a kind, cultured man, yet he gets mercilessly ripped for these qualities and because he has facial characteristics the Internet has decided are goofy. I know. I’ve regrettably taken part.
Instead of being ripped, Bosh should be lauded for his family-first, then team-first mentality. This is a man who flew home for the birth of his child and was prepared to miss an important basketball game. Some people ripped him for it. Ignorance.
It was a great example for a professional athlete to set, one that could perhaps help offset the negative examples we always see publicized about athletes with not six…not seven…not even eight, but more kids with just as many mothers.
And speaking of being fathers first, how about Dwyane Wade? If you haven’t read Gregg Doyel’s column about Wade from yesterday, read it. It’s terrific.
Sure, Wade annoys me with his flopping and whining on the court, and he’s shown himself to be immature in some ways too, but these are men playing basketball that we’re watching. Despite the media’s insistence on coloring everyone good or bad, black or white, clutch or unclutch, or any other archetype that best polarizes and drives eyeballs, the reality is usually far grayer and more nuanced.
Which brings us back to LeBron.
LeBron’s Time Is Now
I don’t know LeBron personally, obviously. And some things I do “know,” like these stories about how he allegedly treats servers, are very unlikeable.
But LeBron is also a guy who, for the most part, has been a really positive role model in an era when that is so hard to do. I don’t think athletes need to be role models, and I certainly will steer my kids away from looking up to athletes, but the reality is that young people do look up to athletes whether they should or not.
And though LeBron’s ego, arrogance, and pride have gotten carried away at times, he has also been the ultimate team-first basketball superstar, a guy who has somehow avoided off-court scandal despite a 24/7 media glare since high school, and a guy who recently married his high school sweetheart and the mother of his children while being a very present and active father by all accounts.
Yet this is the guy we hate? This is the guy we want to turn into Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant? I say…why?
Sure, Jordan and Bryant have 11 combined titles. And I realize that in sports everything is ultimately measured by championships, buy those two guys’ ability to win basketball games masks the fact that they were/are self-centered, vindictive jackassess who really are not very good (or perhaps the more fair word is likeable) human beings.
Why can’t we appreciate what we have in LeBron? He is an amazingly well-adjusted young man in his late 20s, considering what he’s uniquely dealt with since high school, who has somehow remained the ultimate team player despite having more individual talent that any basketball player ever.
LeBron James is a one-of-a-kind athlete and entertainer who despite some immaturity-induced missteps has grown up before our eyes to stand maturely and proudly on the precipice of his destiny.
He’s one game away from realizing what once seemed inevitable, then became more and more unlikely, and now seems inevitable once again.
Yes, this year is about LeBron.
It’s about his growth as an athlete, as a man, and as an icon.
And despite the incessantly negative narrative you and I were all force fed before the tone started to thankfully turn over the past couple of weeks, most of what LeBron represents is good and decent and laudable. Wade and Bosh too.
So I’m rooting for LeBron and the Heat to win this year’s title. It’s theirs.
Of course it won’t officially be theirs until they win a fourth game. They won’t have truly earned it until they actually win it. But once they do, if they do, no one will be able to say that it is anything but rightfully theirs.
It certainly will rightfully be LeBron’s, who was born to one day be crowned king of the NBA and now finally seems mature enough to assume his predestined sports throne … and deserve it.
My thanks to the folks at Muscle Milk for the prompt to write this article, and to Gregg Doyel for the kind and inspiring words he sent yesterday.