Ahhhh yes, the so-called “coronation of King James” finally happened Thursday night as the Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 for the NBA Championship. LeBron James, the self-proclaimed King, earned his crown in his ninth season in the League, leaving everyone asking questions like “is this redemption,” and “does a title signify the pinnacle for James and will it quiet the haters?”
With one notch on his Championship belt comes a level of respect for James that even the toughest of the haters must acknowledge. You don’t have to like the guy or forgive some of the crappy choices he’s made in the past, but with this title comes the confirmation that LeBron is more than just a superstar; he’s a winner.
James has experienced a true career evolution, but in reverse. As a high school phenomenon, James was, without earning them, handed the keys to the kingdom -based on talent, not results- before making an NBA roster. While he was a celebrity from Day 1 and showcased an arsenal of offensive skills in his very first season as a Cleveland Cavalier, it took James a few years to get his defense up to par, which elevated his game and reputation significantly.
Since becoming the complete package circa 2009, the question seemed to be not “if” but “when” James would win a Championship and enter the elite ranks of the NBA.
For years, nobody doubted James’ talent, instead, using non-basketball reasons to pick the man apart. From the rumored affair between ‘Bron’s mom Gloria and Delonte West, to Handshake-gate vs. the Magic, to The Decision and The Heatles, much of the James-hatred was self inflicted.
The criticisms of being unable, and even worse, unwilling to take “big” shots tainted James’ on-court image just enough to change the question to, “will he EVER win a title?”
Individual talent is no longer good enough for those playing team sports. The debate exists, “can you be at the most elite level without a Championship ring?”
Look at Dan Marino, or Peyton Manning before he finally led the Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2006?
With career averages of 27.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 48 percent shooting in 39.9 minutes per game, PLUS a host of hardware including three MVP awards, four NBA All-Defensive First Team honors and eight All-Star appearances, all that remained was a Championship to put a bow on an already-Hall of Fame worthy career.
John Stockton & Karl Malone, TOGETHER, never won a championship.
Eglin Baylor never won a championship.
Charles Barkley never won a championship.
Reggie Miller never won a championship.
Dominique Wilkins never won a championship.
Patrick Ewing never won a championship.
These guys are some of the best to EVER play the game of basketball, an opinion backed up by the fact that each one is a member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Had James failed to win a title during his career, he would still be in great company. That said, he would be haunted forever, just like the men listed above remain, to this day.
Michael Jordan won his first of six Championships in his seventh season. It took Shaquille O’Neal eight years, and poor Dirk Novitzki toughed out 13 seasons before winning it all.
While second place is indeed the first loser, there is something to be said for the fact that James had already been to the Finals twice, with two different teams. Neither the Cavaliers nor last year’s Heat team would’ve made it there without James on the roster.
Every great individual basketball player needs a good team surrounding him (or her) to win at the highest level. It took James a LONG. ASS. TIME. to get the right people around him on the court, clipboarding on the bench and sitting in the front office before he could possibly put on a ring.
After Miami’s Big Three went through all kinds of trial and error in its first season together, the players finally fell in place this year as the Heat figured it all out. Miami completely dismantled a Thunder team that looked unstoppable, losing a mere three playoff games heading into the Finals.
There would be no taking a backseat for James in the Finals this year, no sir. He did not defer to his teammates. James was the first option, period. That says a lot when Dwayne Wade is on the court as well. I don’t care if Wade looked old and beat up at times, he’s still a damn good basketball player who was dwarfed by LeBron in this series, a few specific moments aside. James averaged 28.6 ppg and 10.2 assists in the series, earning him the title of Finals MVP.
After the series-clinching Game 5 win, Wade said of James, “I don’t know if I could be happier for another guy, another man to succeed in life as I am for him.”
Talk about a different tune. Not so long ago, word would occasionally leak from Cleveland depicting a young, cocky and often times selfish player who was so untouchable that the head coach was afraid to discipline him, causing resentment among fellow Cavs players. Now, it sounds like James is clearly adored by his Miami teammates, including Wade, the brightest of stars in his own right.
The haters will keep on hating. “Well, how many rings will he get? I mean, Mark Madsen has more rings than LeBron.”
True. But who cares?
In my book, all it takes is one, therefor James can finally rest on top of the mountain and enjoy the view.