He won. That’s all that matters. The debate over LeBron James may go on. But sports is a did-or-didn’t business, and when Miami captured the NBA title Thursday, LeBron stepped over.
This explains why the same fans, critics and sports media who just TWO WEEKS AGO were saying LeBron lacked heart or big shot desire are now bowing to his sunrise.
The uncrowned is crowned.
Winning changes everything.
I don’t think LeBron James suddenly changed. I don’t think he developed a new hunger for the ball. He didn’t win any Finals games with a miracle last shot. He didn’t develop new skills overnight.
I think he played the way he has long been capable of playing, with a team that finally suited his talents, against a team that – like most others – was incapable of stopping him. He put his head down, did what he was born to do.
And he won. Well, his team won. But this is the NBA. The stars get the credit as well as the blame.
James showed how strong, skilled and unflappable he can be on the court. But the two most telling insights, to me, were blurted out after questions following the Heat’s conquest of the Thunder.
The first was “It’s about damn time.” Very few of us would reach such a moment that way. Maybe we’d say, “I can’t believe it!” Or, “Thank-you, Lord.” Or, “THIS IS GREAT!”
It’s about damn time?
But then, how many of us are ever dubbed “The Chosen One”? How many of us are predicted for legend before our high school prom? LeBron was like a character in Greek mythology who, as a child, discovers his destiny written on a rock. He has been waiting ever since.
From loved to loathed
The second comment was this: “I played with a lot of hate, and that’s not the way I play the game of basketball.”
James was talking about last year, following the boomerang reaction to his “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” TV announcement. It was perhaps the dumbest PR move in NBA history, followed by that obnoxious, over-the-top presentation to fans of the new Heat trio – James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – which looked like a combination boy band concert and Fourth of July celebration.
James predicted championships, (“Not one, not two, not three…”) and, image-wise, it was a race to the bottom of the ocean.
You don’t count your titles before they hatch. Fans resent that. They want humility. They want to feel you earn it.
So James found himself transformed from one of the game’s most popular players to its most hated. And it made him play with “hate.” And that’s a big part of sports today – anger, vitriol, nasty Internet blogging. James played with hate. The fans watched with hate.
Doesn’t that say something about our world?
Sports should be about great performances. About desire and skill and rising to the occasion.
Instead, much of these NBA Finals were about perception: good guys, bad guys. Manipulative multimillionaires versus up-and-coming kids. More people watched hoping for the Heat to lose than rooting for them to win.
But in the end, it was a referendum on James. And in the end, he passed the test. No, he didn’t win by himself.
Watching the Heat swing the ball around against Oklahoma City was like watching a guillotine drop. OKC was not very good at switching and rotating or getting up on shooters, and Miami, many times, only had to pass it enough to find a wide-open Shane Battier or Mike Miller. (Has anyone in the history of the NBA Finals ever had more wide-open shots than Battier?)
But night after night, James attacked the rim, or buried deadeye shooting, and his MVP numbers were unmatched in history.
He won. And now the music changes, and his shadow grows, and however he was viewed before, he must be viewed differently. There have been many great players who never won an NBA title – Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Elgin Baylor, Pete Maravich. None of them was ever predicted to be the king of basketball.
LeBron James was.
And now he is.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org