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But the leadership and heroics James displayed by leading his Heat team to a stirring title defence means LeBron has now become something even greater.
LeBron James is now a legend.
A lot of neutrals who were watching the final 7 games of this NBA season would have hoped that the underdogs San Antonio Spurs would upset the man that was responsible for the ‘decision’ (something even the departing NBA commissioner David Stern found deplorable) and who publicly proclaimed that he would see Miami win eight titles (something that is now admittedly well in play!).
Even though his none-too-insignificant abilities are worthy of respect, it is still very difficult to root for the man.
However, one can do nothing but applaud the greatest basketball player on the planet for absorbing the most executive, analytical, expert and armchair criticisms that have ever been thrown at an individual, and using them as motivation to win back-to-back NBA titles.
LeBron and coach Eric Spoelstra will, to their credit, divert the inevitable attention that will fall on the efforts of James back to the all- round team performance, which was admittedly mighty.
But make no bones about it, this is Lebron’s team; and without his super hero efforts in game 6 and 7, the Larry O’Brien trophy would now be covered with the fingerprints of Duncan, Popovich and Parker.
This is not to belittle the other member of Miami’s roster. But the fact is that even LeBron’s teammates know the above statement to be true, as was evidenced in the team’s joyous reaction to their leader’s MVP award.
To the man, they are no doubt grateful for participating on the King’s court.
As rightfully as LeBron was roundly and deservedly cut down for the strange 2011 finals effort and subsequent defeat, he just as deservedly needs all the plaudits one can meter out where this Heat victory is concerned.
The NBA uses the word ‘Big’ as the tag in its advertising campaign accompanied by footage of NBA stars making ‘big’ plays.
For next season, James’s stat lines from the final two elimination games of this absorbing finals series need only accompany ‘Big’. We will all know what the NBA is getting at.
James’ game 6 and 7 performances were, considering the stakes, the biggest and most effective of his career.
Last year, Miami faced a young OKC Thunder team that wilted on the big stage and under the weight of a combined big three effort. This year, Miami faced a ‘big boy’ series, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich coined it.
This was no place for a champion with anxiety and confidence issues, something that was alluded to in 2011 and was seemingly apparent during LeBron’s game 3 and 5 efforts this year.
But on consecutive nights, with their season and ‘legacy’ on the line, the ‘big three’ was the group wilting as it was often reduced to a ‘big two’, and James was called upon to carry the load.
For example, game 6 saw Chris Bosh come up with some game-saving plays while Wade was quiet. In game 7, the big man laid a goose egg on offence and was barely visible in defence, while Wade came on with 23 points and vital rebounds.
And while these schizophrenic performances were going on around him, LeBron held his nerve to play two of the most ‘clutch’ games seen in finals history.
Cometh the hour, cometh the King.
But despite the heroics, one cannot ignore how easily it all could have been catastrophically different for James and the Heat.
Indeed, the closeness with which the Spurs came to recording a famous finals victory could now be used in any dictionary, referenced under ‘near miss’.
There has been much analysis of every Spurs play that occurred in that extraordinary final 22 seconds of regulation game 6.
Ginobilli and Leonard’s free throw misses are stand-outs, as was the failure of the Spurs to secure rebounds that led to LeBron’s late second chance three-pointer and that shot by Ray Allen.
But as the excellent Zach Lowe points out in this amazing Grantland piece, there are many incidents that occur throughout a basketball game that all have equal bearing on an outcome.
Lowe reminds us that no one event can ever be blamed for defeat.
But Tony Parker will no doubt go over that final second drive in game 6, Ginobili will no doubt stew over that no call, and from game 7, Tim Duncan will be haunted by his point blank miss to tie the game with 30 seconds to go.
Had any of these moments gone the way of the Spurs, we could now be talking about James and the Heat’s legacy being under threat, along with the potential break up of the ‘big three’.
The fact that we are not has much to do with the efforts of a champion and, in turn, the creation of a legend.