After two championships in two years, it is about time LeBron James get his proper due – he is one of the best players of all time and we need to start appreciating him. If anyone wanted to write off his first title as the product of a lockout shortened season (in which DRose got hurt!) then their argument has gone out the window now. LeBron carried the Heat to 66 wins, the top seed in the league, a 27 game winning streak AND was one of three guys to win back to back MVP’s in both the regular season and the playoffs.
Take a deep breath Heat haters because the hyperbole is not stopping any time soon. LeBron has silenced the critics again and again; seriously has any player ever had to prove himself so many times? Even after averaging more than 30 ppg in closeout game sevens, even after his game 6 against Boston in which he (according to Grantland’s Bill Simmons) assassinated the Big Three Era in Boston with his 75% shooting and 45 point night. Amazingly he still had to face criticism both in the series against the Spurs and against the Pacers. In two game sevens this season he essentially single handedly carried the Heat past two great opponents. His two best teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade both had subpar playoff runs (flashes of brilliance but otherwise not great).
Still…we want more.
How is this fair to ask of him? How can we expect more from a man whose ceiling seems limitless, who is capable of virtually anything on a basketball court? He is a player who could lead the league in any stat if he put his mind to it (a la Wilt) but who has now discovered the importance of winning.
At the outset of his career, and for much of his life before Miami, things came easy for LeBron – he was always the best, the future. He, and everyone associated with the NBA, assumed there would be multiple titles, MVP’s and the like. It was all simply a matter of time. After all, here was a runaway freight train whom it was assumed would only get better and better with time; he would develop a jump shot and a post game to go with his ridiculous, out of this world physical talent. When he dragged one of the worst teams ever to the finals in 2007 (where they were promptly dispatched by the Spurs) it seemed like he had just made the first of what would a yearly recurring trip.
Then he did not.
Everything fell apart in Cleveland, he made “the decision” and declared “not one, not two…”
With Miami, we all assumed it would be easy again, after all he was playing with two of the top fifteen players in the league. After the collapse against Dallas, he had enough – it was time to hone his prodigious gifts and finally become the player we all knew was inside him. Time and time again he put the team on his back, and in doing so had one of the most remarkable (although shortened) seasons in the history of the NBA. One of the main keys: the Heat finally became his team. Wade, due to injury, took a big step back and became the number 2. Suddenly, it was all on LeBron’s shoulders – and his entire legacy was on the line time and time again.
He responded not only with the game six against Boston but also the series against OKC in which he played some of the best basketball of the last twenty years. For his entire career we waited to see LeBron’s ceiling and in the 2012 playoffs we definitely got the first glimpse. He was a champion, and he earned it the hard way. LeBron finally understood that winning a title is not easy, it is never easy.
In 2013 he came out without any pressure – he was a champion and no one could ever take away the title from him for the rest of his career. Still, we wanted more. Always, we wanted more from him.
Why? How can we demand more from a player who has given us all we could ever ask for and more?
We do not know what he is capable of, we do not know how good he can be. From him we always expect his ceiling to go higher, his potential to be limitless – the top of the mountain could never fully be reached because we had never seen anyone like him before. In 2013 we saw that player; he shot more than 65% and averaged over 30 ppg for an entire month. He was easily the best defender in the league as well as its best offensive player. LeBron could have won the best defensive player of the year and MVP in the same year. Arguably he could have been in line for Most Improved.
What more does LeBron have to prove to us? He has won 4 out of 5 of the last MVP Awards and is one of three players to win back to back MVP’s and Finals MVP. He had transformed himself into one of the best shooters in the league in addition to the defense and the scoring and the passing and the rebounding…
LBJ has back to back titles (something few others can claim) and has literally carried his team through three grueling playoff runs, as well as the Olympics. He knows what it takes to win and he is willing to sacrifice whatever he has to in order to get there.
Where do the Heat and their leader go from here? It is unlikely they will win again, or make the Finals with other contenders getting better and better. However, even with Bosh and Wade getting older and the team breaking down, it is impossible to get away from one simple fact: can you ever count out the NBA’s best player?
Legacy is irrelevant now: do we discount Michael Jordan’s 6 titles when they are compared to Russell’s 11? Should we discount LeBron’s 2 (and counting) when it comes to Jordan’s 6? He is the greatest player of his generation and probably one of the top six or seven players in the history of the game.
Still we want more and if the past is an indication, from LeBron, we are likely to get it.