Two years ago, LeBron James’ stock fell overnight when he made The Decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat in the quest for an NBA championship. It was a move that led the Cleveland faithful to detest him to the core. It also made basketball fans ask questions about where the league was headed if superstars continued to form such ‘dream teams’ within the league thereby weakening the rest of the franchises.
Today, James has been vindicated. In his third NBA Finals, the prodigy who was the number one pick in the 2003 NBA Draft has finally been crowned an NBA champion. No King is complete without his crown and James received his in the form of an NBA Finals MVP trophy to go with the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
It was third time lucky for LeBron James as he fell short on the two previous occasions he and his team had reached the Finals. The first time, he had carried the Cavaliers to their first ever Finals in 2007 but were swept 4-0 by Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs. The previous season, the big three of Miami – James, Wade and Bosh were humbled and schooled by Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in what was a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals where Miami clinched the title with a similar 4-2 series victory.
Life was never easy for James after he decided to “take his talents to South Beach”. The television special where he was interviewed after he’s made his choice did not sit well with the fans and the NBA. When quizzed about it later, James was apologetic and wished he’d gone about it differently but still stuck to his decision to leave Ohio.
Many accused him of taking a shortcut to the NBA crown. Even the Cavaliers’ owner led the mob in accusing him of being selfish and betraying the franchise by brandishing an open letter that put him in trouble with the NBA. Legends like Michael Jordan also did not sit quietly and criticized James for trying to team up with rivals saying that he would never have considered teaming up with Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. He wanted to defeat them! Not join them.
Chris Bosh soon arrived and the trio of Wade, James and Bosh was unveiled in a grand show at Miami. While some saw them as heroes, others saw them as mercenaries. When the Heat traveled to Cleveland, James endured hostile crowd chants as they booed him whenever he got the ball. In a strange way, it seemed like his move was justified as the fans refused to accept the fact that it was because of James that their team was performing well all these years, in spite of not getting enough support on the court.
But as the fans soon found out, the pairing of LeBron and Dwayne was irresistible as they shattered NBA records by scoring over 4000 points together in the season. The Heat trounced opponents on their way to the Finals and destiny seemed to be in James’ own hands.
It wasn’t to be.
In what was a shocking series for LeBron, his performance dipped to alarming standards as MVP Dirk Nowitzki and co. ran riot (in spite of Dirk being unwell). While James had steamrolled opponents in the playoffs by averaging 23.6 points per game, in the Finals he only averaged 17.8. No other player in the history of the NBA had suffered such a dip in performance. His performance on the court in the fourth quarter (he averaged only 3 points in all 6 games) of all games was abysmal, questioning his lack of character and ability to make big plays.
After a prolonged offseason due to the NBA lockout, James focused on improving his game and even had Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon coach him on his post-up plays. The hard work paid off as James exploded in the regular season by averaging almost 30 points a game as Wade and Bosh suffered with injuries. When the playoffs came about, he’d upped the tempo as the opponents literally faced the heat. With elimination looming in a game against the Boston Celtics, James recorded 45 points and 15 rebounds, keeping them on track and eventually closing out a thrilling Eastern Conference Finals series in Game 7.
The NBA Finals was slated as a battle of epic proportions between LeBron James and the winner of the scoring title; the young Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant. Although the Heat lost Game 1, they recovered and went on to win the next four games, culminating in a title win on home court. James had even fought leg cramps in game 4 and came back on the court to help win the game. He was the favourite to take the MVP trophy as he recorded more than 30 points and almost 10 rebounds a game – a stark contrast to last year’s post-season.
When asked about the win he said, “I’m happy now that eight years later, nine years later since I’ve been drafted, that I can finally say that I’m a champion, and I did it the right way. I didn’t shortcut anything. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a basketball player. You just put a lot of hard work into it and you hope that one day it will pay off for you.”
As the confetti rained down on the champions at the American Airline Arena, the fans rejoiced as the King had finally been crowned!