Witnessing LeBron's Time
By Brett Weisband
June 22, 2012
About three weeks ago, I started writing what equated to an obituary for LeBron James’ third MVP season. Even though he was playing some superb basketball against the Celtics, it didn’t seem like Miami had enough, and I was once again doubting LeBron and the Heat’s fortitude. I had the same doubts when they went down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers. He answered that challenge with a 40-18-9 game. Then, down 3-2 to the Celtics, James unleashed one of the most thorough eviscerations I’ve ever witnessed, and any lingering doubts were erased. Needless to say, that column got scrapped. We were no longer watching the LeBron that sat on the bench biting his nails and disappearing from last year’s Finals, or the one that detached himself from the 2010 Cavaliers on his way out the door. The LeBron most recognizable for his joy and boyishness and, yes, timidness in big moments on the court was gone, replaced by an unsmiling assassin.
Think back to Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. With a second left on the clock and the Cavs down two points to the Magic, I remember being unsure LeBron would even get the ball. The ball did wind up in his hands, he drained a long three, and celebrated like a little kid who just won the biggest prize at the state fair. Fast forward to Game 4 against the Thunder. James’ previously bionic body was failing him, completely out of gas. After leaving the game with cramps, he limped back onto the floor, ready to give the mythical extra 10 percent. Bron proceeded to drill the biggest shot of his career , and shuffled down the court, the pain resonating through his legs the only emotion on his face.
James controlled these Finals, and really the entire Heat playoff run, like everyone had hoped he one day would. The tentativeness that had plagued him at one point was completely gone; LeBron took to the low post, drove the ball to the hoop relentlessly and created space for his teammates time and time again. Averaging 30-10-5 for the Playoffs begins to tell the story, but it was his attitude and body language that were more important. The urgency, tenacity and determination everyone had clamored for were apparent on this march.
It was only fitting LeBron finished off his championship with a triple double, and even better that he did it on his own terms. He made clutch shots and punished everyone the Thunder threw at him down low all series, just as he did to the Pacers and Celtics, two things he’s been hammered for not doing in the past. But none of the games in these Finals came down to a final possession, where LeBron would have undoubtedly had the ball in his hands and his critics would have been salivating, ready to pounce on another missed jump shot. Instead, he and the Heat got their ring in the exact fashion Pat Riley imagined when he assembled this team. LeBron controlled the flow of the game, took it to the hole at will and found open shooters whenever he wanted. No dribbling out the clock for an off-balance jumper at the buzzer, just relentless attacking until a championship was in hand.
The most telling sign of LeBron’s completed evolution, from the reluctant star, timid and apt to choking (just ask the media), to champion, came late in the 3rd quarter of the clinching Game 5. As Miami continued to rain threes on the Thunder, Mario Chalmers was trying to somehow get the crowd to be even louder than they already were. Because it was Mario Chalmers, James went over and told him to shut up. His words to Chalmers summed up his mind state for the Heat’s playoff run perfectly: “Not yet.” The Heat were pushing their lead close to 30 points, but the job wasn’t done yet, and LeBron wasn’t ready to smile. Not yet, at least. He’d gone from the guy who used to dance on the bench to the guy who won’t even crack a smile with a 25-point lead in the clinching game of the NBA Finals.
It was only a matter of time before LeBron got his championship. Even the most ardent LeBron- and Heat-haters would likely admit that. A transcendent player like James is eventually going to figure out what it takes to win. This year, LeBron just kept coming and coming, absolutely refusing to let anything stop this team from reaching the pinnacle.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter if the Heat live up to James’ prediction of “not two, not three...” championships. He did more than leave his mark on these Playoffs and Finals; it was more like a stampede’s worth of footprints all over every team that stood in the Heat’s way. He showed everyone who had tried to tear him down these last few years that he did have the “it” so many thought he lacked. He proved he’s a champion.
And LeBron himself summed it up best:
“It’s about damn time.”