Throughout his 9-year career, Miami Heat forward LeBron James has been a lot of things. He’s been a winner, a competitor, an All-Star, a MVP and on Thursday, became a champion. There’s been little doubt for a long time now that James is the greatest player in the league today, but his absence of a title deteriorated from his place all-time. While James’ play in the NBA Finals was outstanding especially compared to last year, what I couldn’t help but perceive was that over the past few years, James seems to have matured as a person.
Due the media love affair with LeBron that coined the nickname and crowned him, “King James” prior to ever playing his first NBA game, I’ve never been a huge fan of LeBron. But it’s not just the media’s obsession with James or the fact that any fast break dunk by LeBron seems to always be Sportscenter’s top play. It’s James’ actions in defeat over the past few seasons that really rubbed me the wrong way.
I was highly critical of James following last year’s NBA Finals defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. His comments where he said, “They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want with me and my family and be happy with that.” about fans rooting against him really rubbed me the wrong way. He later gave an explanation that I found to be acceptable, but that was not my sole beef with LeBron. I didn’t like the fact that when he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he refused to congratulate the Orlando Magic players after being ousted in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009. I didn’t like that he blamed the opposition to him signing with the Miami Heat on race and I wasn’t crazy about him holding a special on ESPN to announce the decision to play for Miami. But as I sat there watching him hoist his first world championship trophy, I couldn’t help but feel happy for the guy.
It’s much easier to be a good winner than a good loser, but I felt that James was a gracious winner throughout the course of the playoffs. Miami’s run to a championship was not an easy one. The Heat trailed the Indiana Pacers two games to one in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They fell behind three games to two to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals before rallying to win the series in seven games. And they dropped Game 1 of the NBA Finals to Oklahoma City.
Following last year’s finals, James was criticized for floundering in the fourth quarter, for not being aggressive and for not getting it done. This year however was much different. Every time the Heat faced adversity in the playoffs, James claimed responsibility. He stayed calm, he didn’t place blame on anyone, he stayed positive and then performed on the floor.
With his team trailing the Pacers two games to one and facing the possibility of the series heading back to Miami with the Heat down 3-1, James put forward a 40-point, 18 rebound effort as Miami evened the series. Facing elimination in Game 6 of the conference finals against Boston, James went 19-for-26 from the field and scored 45 points while ripping down 15 boards to stave off elimination. In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, it was James’ late 3-pointer while battling cramps, that put the Heat ahead for good. And needing just one win to take home his first championship, James recorded a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists as Miami closed out the Thunder.
But James’ maturity this postseason was bigger than what can be measured in numbers alone. The NBA Finals was as star-studded as it had been in years. With the Big 3 of Miami and the dynamic Oklahoma City duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the NBA’s finest was on display. And on the court, things at times got testy; there was some pushing and shoving, some obvious ill-will, but none of it came from James. The most telling moment of James’ maturity came late in the third quarter of Game 5. With the Heat building a seemingly insurmountable 25-point lead late, Miami guard Mario Chalmers, who had been in an altercation with Durant earlier in the game, began waving to the Miami crowd as if the game were already over. With tempers already flaring, James walked over to Chalmers and saw to it that he knock it off and made sure that his team finished the game strong.
After the Heat finished off the Thunder and James was named the NBA Finals MVP, James could have scoffed at his critics, he could have stuck it to all those who criticized his actions off the court or his inability to win a championship on it, but he didn’t. Instead, he talked about his personal growth and how he “went back to the basics”. He complemented his teammates and had not one bad word to say about his opponent, the Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder. He insisted that the Thunder would probably be back and carried himself as a champion.
As I said earlier, it is much easier to be a good winner than a good loser. A good loser is not always something that James has been in the past. We can’t really be sure of James’ maturity until he is ousted from the playoffs and at some point in his NBA future, he will be. But for the time being, it appears as though we have not only watched LeBron James become a NBA champion. It seems as though we’ve witnessed the superstar grow as a person as well.
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