July 9, 2010. June 21, 2012. That’s 102 weeks, 714 days and 17,136 hours that LeBron James had to endure before achieving his singular ambition of winning an NBA title. Cleveland fans hated him, others mocked him and the veterans even questioned his willingness to carry a team when he left the Cavaliers two years ago. But as the champagne bottles were uncorked at the American Airlines Arena following Miami’s Game 5 win over Oklahoma City, James’ historic decision, undoubtedly, has paid off.
It didn’t come easy. From having the whole world (other than Miami) scrutinising every move he made, to Miami’s six-game loss to Dallas in last year’s finals, to being taken to the brink by the Boston Celtics in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, James’ path to the Larry O’Brien trophy was peppered with obstacles. It might have been easier for a novice to swim the English Channel, except that James didn’t give up. He took the criticism -- often unjustified -- on the chin, but didn’t slacken so far as his performances were concerned.
From finishing as regular season MVP to producing some unbelievable games against Indiana (Game 4, 40 pts, 18 rebs, 9 assts) and Boston (Game 6, 45 pts, 15 rebs) in the playoffs, James was Ethan Hunt-like in the NBA’s version of Mission Impossible. To add to that, his 28.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG and 7.4 APG in the Finals played the biggest part in outgunning the Thunder. To quote Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, “James needed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but they needed him a lot more for a championship.”
“Everything that went along with being a high school prodigy, to being drafted and having to be the face of a franchise, everything that came with it, I had to learn through it,” said James following the Game 5 win. “No one had gone through that journey, so I had to do it on my own. I had to figure it out on my own.”
There was also a sense of newfound maturity in James’ savouring of the moment. Two years ago when he announced his decision to move from Cleveland, fans were irked not so much by his announcement, but the manner in which he pulled the plug on the Cavaliers’ franchise through a made-for-television (ESPN’s ‘The Decision’) event. Subsequently, his hubristic declaration of Miami’s automatic ascension to becoming the NBA’s premier team and other PR bloopers lost him a lot of goodwill in the basketball cosmos.
Today, though, was different. Even as the Heat closed in on a definite victory at the start of the fourth quarter, you could see James chiding Mario Chalmers for indulging in a celebratory routine before the final buzzer had sounded. And then, when the clock struck midnight on the Thunder’s finals’ run, James showed class by embracing Durant instead of losing himself in an over-the-top celebration. Clearly, James’ is a wiser if not entirely changed person from what he was two years ago.
Miami’s win in the 2012 NBA Finals doesn’t necessarily mean that they are primed to build a dynasty like the San Antonio Spurs or the Los Angeles Lakers did in the decade of the noughties. They still have gaps to plug on their roster, which include adding a premier point-guard, a genuine center and an able bench. Also, with Durant and Westbrook having experienced the NBA Finals this year, the Thunder will certainly be a much tougher opponent should these two teams battle it out in the finals next year.
But for now, the moment belongs to James. Let’s give it to him for holding his head where others would have lost theirs.
All stats are up to games played on June 19, 2012 (IST)