LeBron James is an NBA Champion. No more can he be subjected to ridicule and humiliation for not meeting the unfairly and unbelievably high expectations we put on him to win it all. He has persevered through all of this attention, all of the negativity, all of the setbacks, and his one major bad “Decision.”
No longer can we ignore his prodigious playoff numbers, preferring to focus on one missed free throw or one bad pass as evidence of his inability to win. The most over-analyzed and unfairly burdened player in sports history has proved equal, if not greater, to the expectations put on him.
He didn’t ordain himself the Messiah of Basketball That Was Foretold. We did. Just watch the documentary “More Than a Game.” He knew that he was a good player in high school as much as we did, but nobody deserved the kind of pressure we put on him. The King was crowned by his people before he was truly ready for royalty.
An unhealthy relationship with Cleveland led him to Miami, where he struggled and ultimately lost to an older, more experienced and a more deserving Dallas team. It took that fall from grace and the inevitable humiliation to humble the King and give him the experience and maturity necessary to win last night. Champions are not born, they are made. Last year’s Miami Heat played like a group of selfish individuals, this year’s played like a team.
Now the King has a ring. The haters can’t hold that over him any longer. He did it, and he did it on his terms despite much of the Western world rooting against him for incredibly petty reasons. Holding a grudge only hurts them, not LeBron. They can post hurtful things online, blame poor officiating, claim some kind of conspiracy and stew in their hatred all they want. LeBron both wanted and deserved the championship he won last night more than anyone else. He slept with a smile on his face last night. A long-overdue smile.
Shane Ryan of Grantland sums it up best:
“Here’s the story about LeBron James that I believe: He was a fun-loving kid with Cleveland, back when he was just a prodigious bright spot in a grateful town. He goofed around with his teammates, and he tread lightly on the NBA. Nobody wins titles that way, but still it was a blast, a near revolution. When the youth of it all was fading, he made one right decision by leaving a town where he could never thrive, and one wrong decision to announce it on television in a way that hurt his fans. He was still a good person, but he was entering the real world of expectations, and it reflected negatively on him that he couldn’t see the pain he was about to cause. He was punished severely in the court of public opinion, and hatred followed him to Miami. As he admitted Thursday night, he returned that hatred in kind, and karma caught up with him against Dallas. He couldn’t find a way to reconcile the love he had for the game with the high stakes and tension of the real NBA. He paid. And then this year, starting with Indiana, he discovered the path. The steps were clear — the Heat beat the Pacers, he became a legend in Game 6 against Boston, and he exorcised the remaining ghosts against Oklahoma City. He played the game on his terms, with love, and he won beautifully.”
LeBron has grown up and become his own man with his own expectations. Comparisons to Jordan, Magic, and others won’t go away, but I don’t think he will worry about that anymore. He has the championship that eluded so many other great players of whom a ring was expected as inevitable. Patrick Ewing doesn’t have one. Karl Malone doesn’t have one. LeBron does.
So let’s all lay off the guy. We set impossibly high expectations on him and he delivered against all those working against him on and off the court. He has proven himself a deserving superstar, somebody we can look up to as a model of perseverance and self-confidence, a uniquely American story of pain, rejection, ridicule, and redemption that is one of the more inspiring stories ever told. Maybe it will be many years before the majority of fans fully appreciate the gift LeBron is to us both as a player and a person, but that isn’t his problem. For now, he can rest easy knowing that he did it. He proved himself worthy of his dream, a dream he has worked towards from childhood and realized with hard work and determination. His story tells us that no matter what the odds, we too can achieve anything we set our minds to.