When LeBron James took the court Thursday night in Miami, it was unlike any time before in his life. Whether it be a pick up game, high school, the Olympics, or any other pro game in his career, this game was special; because for the first time in James’ life he was a mere forty-eight minutes away from winning the most coveted prize in basketball, the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Only forty-eight minutes and a worn Thunder team were separating him and his teammates from bringing home Miami’s second franchise championship, and on Thursday night in South Beach, the King and his men prevailed dominantly.
“In this fall…this is very tough…in this fall I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat. I feel like it’s going to give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years, and not only just to win in the regular season or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row, I want to be able to win championships. And I feel like I can compete down there.” —LeBron James
On July 8th, 2010, LeBron James made what would turn out to be the decision to be the most hated individual in the sports world [at the time], when he said those nine magic words in front of an audience of millions on ESPN, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.” At that moment Cleveland rioted, jerseys were burned, fans were disgusted, and everyone who wasn’t affiliated with the Miami Heat withdrew their target from whosever back it had been on prior to then, and pinned it on Miami’s. LeBron was deemed a “coward,” “selfish,” and “heartless,” along with a few other choice words fans threw out. The King’s reputation was tarnished and from there it only got worst. In the newly proclaimed “Big 3” intro, LeBron went the extra mile to rally Heat fans by extending his confidence to the world that they plan on winning multiple championships with his infamous line of “Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…”
From then on the Heat were on the hot seat to win, win, win, and after falling short their first season together, the jokes ensued. “LeBron hurt his ring finger? He doesn’t use it anyway!” “When Kobe doesn’t want to be bothered he sets his phone to LeBron mode, no rings!” Every time the Heat lost it was prime time for the haters to step up and make jokes about LeBron, “He can’t finish, he can’t come up big, he’s weak.” Along with some over the top and childish jokes, the criticism from everyone continued to pour in. From fans to NBA legends like Michael Jordan, the negative speculation of three superstars coming together was inevitable. “You would never see MJ collaborating with Bird and Magic just to win a ring, he did it without them.”
In an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, LeBron reflects on the day he made his decision and what it was like to be viewed as the “villain” of the league after switching sides from Cleveland to Miami and being declared a “traitor” by many.
“You start hearing, ‘The Villain,’ now you have to be the villain, and I start to buy into it. I started to play the game of basketball at a level, or at a mind state, where I’ve never played at before, meaning angry, and that’s mentally. I’m not here to ask for any sympathy or ask for any apology, just letting people know who I am and what I am.”—LeBron James
James’ maturity level showed signs of elevation along with his game coming out of the off-season. With prior reflection on the poor decisions he had made and looking ahead to being a better person and teammate, along with some post work coached by Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, James looked ready to clear the negative voices in his head and get back to playing basketball the way he was before he left Cleveland, ready to turn a new page.
“If I can look back on [the decision], I would probably change a lot of it. The fact of having the whole TV special and people getting the opportunity to watch me make a decision on where I’m going to play, I would probably change that. Because now I can look and see that if the shoe was on the other foot and I was a fan…” –LeBron James
Ready to pick up where he left off on the court, only mentally and physically stronger, and with stronger support coming from his teammates, immediately, the change was eminent. The Heat opened up the condensed season 16-5 in January with James averaging 29.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 7.1 assists on 37.4 minutes, shooting a respectable 55.1% from the field and a nice 40.6% from three point land. James stayed consistent throughout the season, making the All-Star team for the eighth time and finishing the year averaging 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists shooting 53% overall and being named to the All-NBA First Team for the sixth time, as well as the All-NBA First Defensive Team for a fourth time.
“Last year, I tried to prove something to everybody. I played with a lot of hate, and that’s not the way I play the game of basketball. I play it with a lot of love and emotion, and that’s what I got back to this year.”—LeBron James
When the playoffs began James did not go away by any means stepping up to a new level on the road to demolishing New York and rising above everything to register 45 points on 19-26 shooting and tallying 15 rebounds and five assists while facing elimination, joining Wilt Chamberlin as the only two players to produce those numbers in an elimination game. The Finals turned out to be a dream come true for the vast majority of the NBA fan base and decision was clear; you were either certain the Heat would crush the Thunder, or you thought the Thunder would dominate the Heat, either way, there was no in between; the sides were torn, and for 90% of the fans outside of Miami the choice was clear, it was the Thunder’s series to win. With a quick start to game one and Miami jumping out by as many as thirteen at one point, the Thunder would come back and take the opening game leaving more fingers to be pointed at James. From then on, however, James and company would rise to the occasion winning the next four straight to win the championship and becoming only the seventh team in the finals to win four consecutive games after dropping the first, and the eleventh team in history to win the NBA Championship after losing it the previous year. James finished the 2012 Finals averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists and finished the postseason overall averaging 30.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. How did LeBron feel about being a Champion when it was all said and done? Check his twitter account where he tweeted on the morning of June 22, 2012, the morning after the finals,
“OMFG I think it just hit me, I’m a CHAMPION!! I AM a CHAMPION!!”
A lot of people hated on James before the Finals and still today hate on him, but the “ringless” jokes must come to an end, since LeBron has achieved the ultimate goal. Now, critics are saying, “Okay, he won a ring, but he still doesn’t have as many as Kobe or Jordan!” Fair enough, critics, we know you will always find something to hate on him for. But for now, respect the man; he has proved himself on the court to be the best in the world as of now, averaging astonishing numbers and dominating on both ends of the court with disgusting throw-downs and powerful put backs, the man has proven his strength. The jokes are already starting with memes with LeBron saying, “Hey, Kobe. Why didn’t you answer my call?” And Kobe replying, “Sorry, I only heard one ring.” The truth is, no matter how much LeBron wins in his life, it was his “Decision” that chose his fate to be hated by many for the rest of his career, regardless of anything he does from here on out.
It’s hard to believe that before this Finals some were looking at LeBron and saying, “First pick overall, rookie of the year, two All-Star game MVPs, eight All-Star game appearances, three MVPs, and Olympic gold… but he’s 27 with NO ring.” Now, those same critics are saying, “First pick overall, rookie of the year, two All-Star game MVPs, an Olympic gold, an NBA Finals MVP, and a ring… And he’s ONLY 27 years old!” The bandwagon may have filled up when LeBron moved to Miami, but it’s obvious there’s still plenty of room on it. So go ahead, spectators. Hate on the man all you want, but as of right now, wherever you may be reading this from, he’s the Finals MVP, he’s an NBA Champion, and he is the best in the world.