By Jay Webster
The parade is over. The trophies are shined up and ready for stashing in their cases. It’s been a week now since LeBron James and the Miami Heat disposed of Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma Thunder in five games for the NBA Championship. Seven days to reflect on what it means for the legacy of one LeBron Raymone James.
James, of course, was almost universally vilified when he spurned his hometown of Cleveland for the glitz of South Beach. Leaving the blue collar steel town of his boyhood, to team up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami, was seen as a copout by many. Instead of leading HIS team to the Promised Land, he jumped ship, seemingly willing to ride Wade’s coattails to a title, rather than put in the hard miles for his own team.
Not only that, it was the way he did it. He didn’t just stab a knife in the heart of every Cleveland fan by leaving town, he went on national television and proclaimed it to the whole world, inflicting a public humiliation that the city of Cleveland will never forget.
Then, for some reason, James was surprised when he discovered that virtually the whole world outside of Miami hated him for it. He went from a universally loved hometown hero to basketball pariah overnight, and he didn’t handle it well.
In his first season in Miami, he put on the black hat he was given and took on the role as bad guy, and it didn’t suit him. He took every slight, every negative tweet, every boo on board. He didn’t play to be the best and lead his team, he played to prove everyone wrong, and it wore him down.
Then when his team reached the NBA Finals against Dirk Nowitski and the Dallas Mavericks, he turtled, turned into a deer in the headlights and laid one of the greatest playoff eggs of all time. It was embarrassing, and King James left the court humbled and defeated, more jeered jester than majestic ruler.
But for once, James handled things the right way. He took a look inside himself and went back into the gym with a renewed focus and desire to be better. He put in the hours and the sweat, and forged himself into a complete player. He returned, not with the look of a wounded deer, but with the glare of an assassin, and went on to post historically good numbers throughout the regular season. Whatever his team needed – points, rebounds, assists, blocks, point guard, power forward, shut-down defender – James provided it.
But James didn’t stop there. He proved he could do it on the biggest stage. In this year’s playoffs, he never looked scared, never looked lost, never shirked from the moment. When the Heat faced elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, James strode into Boston and unleashed a stunning 45-point barrage to force a Game 7. Against the Thunder he hit a clutch three-pointer late in Game 4 while hobbled by leg cramps, and then finished the deal with a 25-point, 11-rebound, 13-assist triple double coronation in the final game of the series.
In retrospect, James needed the 2011 season, deserved it even. He didn’t handle himself or the situation well, and he paid for it. But give credit where credit is due; love him or despise him, King James now rules the NBA roost.