LeBron James now has the hardware to strengthen the argument that he is one of the greatest NBA players ever. Photo by Lynne Sladky (AP)
Please do not argue with the Sports Editor. That’s like maintaining the argument that LeBron James is not a closer, or one of the greatest ever, after he completely dominated the NBA Finals. Illustration by David G. Brown
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
A year ago I wrote that LeBron James was not an iconic player.
Based on his numerous flame outs in the biggest moments, that point of view was exactly right. But as of right now, it is pretty much a wrap on that argument.
The Miami Heat have defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA championship with their “Big 3,” but this championship was not so much about Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. This title run was really about the legacy of James, and he has finally put some real hardware in his trophy case.
Up until now James has been nothing but an image of greatness. But now he has substance behind his greatness. Forget those regular season MVP awards, he now has a NBA Finals championship, and a NBA Finals MVP award. Now when he is mentioned with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, and Kobe Bryant, he has something in common with all of them. He is finally a champion, just like all of them.
James’ critics have had a field day at his expense over the years. It was said that he was not a closer. He shrunk in the biggest moments. He was great for three quarters, but not in the fourth. He was not mentally tough enough to truly dominate the game.
Up until this point all of those statements were true. And even during this playoff run, James looked like he was going to march down that same road of post season failure. Down 2-1 in the Eastern Confernece semifinals to the Indiana Pacers and 3-2 in the conference finals to the Boston Celtics, it looked like the same articles about James would be written again. He was on the verge of flaming out, but he found an inner drive that he has displayed before, and he overcame his past failures. He became a winner.
James has taken all of those criticisms away from people who doubted him. He pried the monkey off of his back with spectacular play and key baskets late in games against the Thunder. He finally became the player that his critics thought he could never be.
When the conversation of greatest players ever is brought up, James will no longer be relegated to the group with Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, and a few other great players who never won a championship. James has finally earned his spot at the big table with the greatest players ever to play basketball. He is now legitimately NBA royalty.
James was the driving force behind the Heat’s championship run, but like every great champion, he did have help from a supporting cast that most people viewed as weak. Wade had moments of greatness during the series, and even though Bosh was playing injured, the team played better when he was able to return for missing the bulk of the Eastern Conference semifinals and championship series.
Leading into the Finals against the Thunder, many people thought that Oklahoma was the more complete team, but the best role players turned out to be coming from Miami. Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and Mike Miller all had flashes of brilliance during the Finals, and they proved to be too much for the younger Thunder team, who turned out to be a two man team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook being the only players on their team who played up to their abilities.
The Heat went from a “Big 3” that did not have a killer instinct to a complete team with a championship instinct, and it all started with James, who decided to by pass the long jumpers and play aggressive by taking the ball to the basket, which the Thunder had no answer for.
The Thunder look like they will be around for a long time, and they are taking the steps to become a championship team, but for the time being, the Heat are the team to beat, and it would be hard to believe that they would not be back in the NBA Finals next year to defend their title.
As for James’ legacy, now the question is how high up the list can he go, and that is going to be dependent on how many titles that he can win.
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