History was made in the National Basketball Association this year: LeBron James won his first career championship against the Oklahoma City Thunder and, perhaps, silenced all the doubters – at least for the time being.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh put together an astonishing playoff run, falling behind 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the second round and coming back to win that series, then subsequently falling behind 3-2 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals but coming back to win an eventual game 7.
With the stage set for a storybook finals match-up – one that featured the best two players on the planet in Kevin Durant and James – a finals performance for the ages looked imminent.
The two maestros clashed, the first game seeing Durant get the better of the regular season MVP on Oklahoma City’s home floor. Durant finished with a game-high 36 points and eight rebounds while LeBron finished with 30 points and nine rebounds, all in a heat loss.
But that would be the last time Kevin Durant, his co-star point guard Russell Westbrook and rest of the Thunder squad would enjoy success against the South Beach kings. The next four games saw the Heat play like owner Pat Riley envisioned when signing the Big 3 two summers ago.
Sheer defensive dominance was how they played, they did it through athleticism, basketball IQ, and finishing ability. The formula was perfect and it equated to a five-game finals series victory.
The Heat completed a gruelling journey that started with James’s “The Decision” special, which aired on ESPN, where he announced his decision to “bring his talents to South Beach”. But despite the criticism and the mockery that followed, the choice and the hard work paid off.
James has been under the international spotlight since his high school days. He was the No.1 recruited prospect out of high school, where he led his St-Vincent St-Mary high school team to three consecutive state championships.
After his third high school title, ESPN dubbed him “The Chosen One.” The nickname stuck, so much so that LeBron now has “Chosen1” tattooed across his upper back.
He was on his way, getting drafted No.1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers and winning rookie of the year in his first season. His successes began to mount, setting rookie records, scoring records, catapulting Cleveland to number one seeds in the playoffs, sparking deep playoff runs and winning MVP honors in 2009 and 2010. But there was one thing missing, the one award that recognised hard work, determination and made legends – an NBA championship.
LeBron went to his first finals in 2007, but was completely destroyed by a much more experienced San Antonio Spurs team who made quick work – a four game sweep. Just as soon as James reached the finals, it seemed as if he was sent immediately home.
The criticisms began, after that Finals fiasco he failed to get the Cavaliers back to the Promised Land. Losing in the first and second round multiple times, choking in crunch time and earning nicknames such as “LeChoke”, critics started calling him the Ringless King.
LeBron faced it all and still managed to put up MVP numbers. Then, after losing to the Celtics again in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, James ripped off his Cavalier jersey for the last time while heading into the locker room, a now famous image of failure and disgust.
The madness started, LeBron’s free agency becoming the most widely followed and most highly anticipated decision in basketball since the merger, rumours swirled, teams vied for the superstar’s talents and it became a whirlwind of indecision.
He finally made his choice. He chose to announce his final decision on an hour long charity special that aired on ESPN, conveniently called “The Decision”. It was on that show where he muttered the now infamous words: “I’ve made my choice, man this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” he paused. “This October, I’ve decided to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
What followed afterwards was chaos. Cavaliers fans went crazy, burning LeBron’s No.23 jersey in the streets, giving him nicknames of explicit content. Even Cavalier owner Dan Gilbert ripped him in a letter he released to the press dubbing him a traitor and that he displayed “cowardly betrayal”.
The hate-fest had commenced and overnight he became the single most despised NBA athlete.
James played angry for the first time in his career. “Last season, man I played with such a different mentality. I played angry. I’ve never played feeling like I had to prove anything to anyone, but I felt like I needed to prove everything to everyone last season,” he said.
“But this year I got back to playing with joy and passion, playing free and easy and letting my basketball do the talking.”
The Heat went on to lose 4-2 to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA finals, with the eyes of the basketball world on the team they crumbled under the pressure. That was all the motivation he needed, later saying that, “I needed that loss last year, after that I had to just relax and get back to how I was playing.
“What Gilbert said got to me, I’m not a selfish person or a selfish guy.”
James needed a change and after the realisation and dedication, he got back to his MVP form and, along with Wade and his Miami teammates, brought a championship to American Airlines Arena.
“It’s about damn time, man. It’s about damn time.” said James with a nervous smile when asked about winning. “This right here? This is the greatest moment of my life.” What followed was relief, for everybody. A fan, critics, analysers, scrutinises or anyone who had an opinion sighed a breath of relief.
Now the king has a ring on his finger and an NBA championship under his belt. Fans were pretty happy too.
“Last year was hard, losing to Dirk and the Mavs like we did was so painful and LeBron never looked right,” said die-hard LeBron fan Neith Rheingold, a Caymanian. “But from opening day this year he’s been on attack mode and we rode that all the way to the finals.
“Wade and Bosh were instrumental in the championship and the way Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers stepped up was huge. But I’ve been a LeBron fan since he was drafted in 2003 and this is a sweet moment.
“He deserved a ring, and now his legacy can be rewritten. Hopefully he can propel us to repeating and maybe three-peating and keep winning rings as the years go on.” Local fans are more than satisfied with LeBron’s ring, and the reaction of relief is worldwide.
All Miami sports fan Terry Ballard feels James did make the right decision. “It feels great to silence them,” he said. “Anyone in their right mind would have chosen to play with two other all-stars. Maybe “The Decision” was over the top, but that’s not why people hate him, they hate him because he left Cleveland.
“Any basketball player or fan would have done the same thing.”
Other fans are more focused on what the future has in store for the Heat. Local footballer Santangelo Bush said: “Like LeBron said, it’s about time they won and the Heat needed a ring after bringing all that talent to south beach.”
“It’s been six years since the Heat last won and LeBron definitely deserved it. The big three played amazing basketball throughout the playoffs and I can’t wait to see what kind of run we can go on in the years to come.”
“It’s about damn time, man. It’s about damn time.” LEBRON JAMES