They hyped him up since he was in 10th grade. They said he would be the best ever, that he would change the game, that he was the greatest since the greatest, that he was going to be greater than the greatest. They revered him as a God and he was just a teenager. They considered him to be a winner when he hadn’t even participated against the best.
He bought into the hype, too, and revered greatness upon himself before he could earn it. He called himself the ‘Chosen One’, called himself a ‘King’. He carried himself with the arrogance of a champion without the credentials of one.
But even without those credentials, he was oh-so-damned-good. He was Rookie of the Year, and then he improved so drastically in the second season that it left even the most ardent of his prophets stumped and impressed. While others were winning and gaining accolades, they continued to overrate him to even greater degrees.
He did things few had ever seen done before. He was capable of playing in ways that none had done before. He accumulated the kind of statistics that left most behind in the dust. He did it even before he could turn 21.
In 2007, he showed us in a flash of a moment his ultimate potential. He scored 29 of his team’s last 30 points to defeat the brilliant Detroit Pistons. He carried his team of lesser mortals into the NBA Finals, where he finally crashed and burned against the Spurs.
Their love for him only increased. He reached the apex of an individual player two years in a row – winning MVP awards in 2009 and 2010 – and their love for him became a frenzied adulation. He was living his dream: he was winning games, winning a gold medal in China, winning the respect of his opponents, while he and his supporters ardently believed that the basketball world revolved around him alone.
But it didn’t: others were winning championships in his place, others were in his way every year. The prophecies were starting to sound tiresome and repetitive, his lack of final success equally annoying and humorous. His weaknesses were being exposed. He was mentally fragile, he wasn’t clutch, he did so much more than what others could do, but he still couldn’t do enough. He was great, but he wasn’t one of the greatest.
Then he took the biggest risk of his career. He seemed cold-blooded when he left his home-state team, the team and the fanbase that supported him from the beginning of his career. He left them under international humiliation. We called him disloyal for not giving them another chance. He left them to join a rival – someone he should beat and not join – and we called him a coward for taking a shortcut to success.
They said that they would be champions – nay, multiple champions – even before they played a game together. They said that they would win more games than anyone else. They said that they could be the greatest. And their supporters and believers followed them into believing that all this possible, that all this would be given to them simply because they had prophesised it would.
And then the hate began. He turned into the public enemy, and dragged his new team and new teammates down with him. Everything he did was villainous. He had raised his own expectations with his bold move, and so anything less than 100 percent success was a 100 percent failure. He was good that year, his team played fairly well, and they reached the Finals. But he lost again, and so, he was a failure again.
He had to be perfect, not to justify the hype (the hype had been so ridiculous that it may never be justified) but just to survive it. And so the following season, he served up near perfection. His team played well and he led them with greatness and efficiency to win his third MVP award. He stopped believing that success was guaranteed and went on a mission to guarantee that success. He went down several times in the Playoffs but bounced back at each step.
He was finally a champion. He was at the pinnacle of his career, becoming everything that he had ever wanted to be. He proved to his critics that he was better than they thought he was; and in the process, made his admirers except that he wasn’t as good as they once thought he was, but he was good enough to be the best of his time.
Maybe that teenager will never be as great as they thought he was. Maybe that rookie won’t be better than Michael Jordan. Maybe that superstar MVP won’t be remembered was overrated all along.
But LeBron James is the best player in the NBA and is finally a Champion. 2012 will be the year that he achieved perfection. 2012 was the year that, after a decade of unreal expectations, he finally made us all into ‘witnesses’.