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Entering the 2012 NBA Finals, Heat forward LeBron James put it upon himself to make sure that the third time would in fact be a charm.
He would not leave anything to chance, shy away from the moment or give anyone another year’s worth of ammunition to continue calling him a crownless king. Averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists in five games against the ferociously athletic and ambitious Oklahoma City Thunder – led by the star-power of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden – the Finals MVP’s breakout performance was exactly what we had long been craving from the world’s best player on its biggest stage.
After last year’s colossal meltdown against the Dallas Mavericks in which he essentially disappeared in the games’ most critical moments – which undoubtedly played an enormous role in the Heat dropping the final three games after establishing a 2-1 series lead with a late win on the road in Game 3 – James refused to crush the fragile hearts of the Miami faithful for a second straight season.
But the seemingly infinite scrutiny that he would have endured might have been an even bigger motivating factor when all was said and done.
In this era of social media and endless reporting via internet, television and radio, many have made the case that James is not only the most criticized and hated professional athlete on the globe today, but that he in fact holds that title amongst all of those that came before him as well.
Reasons for that overload of negative attention differ depending on the skeptic. Reporters, analysts and writers comprehend that someone of his overwhelming size and talent level should surely still be able to shine when the lights are at their brightest, as opposed to crumble under the pressure as he did in his 2011 and 2007 Finals appearances. Although a number of fans share the same sentiment, many others instead enjoy watching him fail due to all of the factors that “The Decision” was composed of along with the understanding that he truly is the greatest player in the game.
A lot of fans appreciate having the opportunity to witness greatness and history as it is taking place, yet there are also those who can’t help but despise it when their beloved team isn’t the beneficiary of it.
With all that being said, it was additionally clear that James felt no desire in returning to that dark place he found himself in following last year’s Game 6 Finals defeat in Miami. He heard the chatter about how he didn’t have that killer instinct that it takes to win a championship. He heard the analysts chastise him for having an inadequate post-game despite being 6’9, 250 pounds – making him an incomplete player.
At that moment where it was essentially the world against James, he had two options. He could either uphold the villainous persona that he openly embraced after announcing his decision to take his “talents to South Beach,” or he could learn from his recent anguish and finally snatch that ring that he had been desperately pursuing for nearly the past decade of his life.
Thankfully for his sake, he chose the latter.
James spent the offseason working on developing an array of moves for the low-block with Hall of Famer and two-time champion, former Houston Rockets center Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. He certainly put those moves to work this postseason, as they made him practically unstoppable for prolonged stretches.
They wouldn’t be enough, however. Something needed to click in James’s DNA in a way it had never done before. The only thing that virtually stood between him and the Larry O’Brien trophy was his inability to focus and play at his optimal level when his team absolutely needed him to.
He admittedly looked himself in the mirror and said “You need to be better.”
With the Heat staring elimination dead in the eye entering Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston, James appeared to have an epiphany about his true abilities. He put his teammates on his back and had a game for the ages, dropping 45 points and ripping down 15 rebounds in a rout of the Celtics.
A solid 31 points by James in Game 7 propelled Miami to its second consecutive NBA Finals appearance. This was apparently a new LeBron James.
Oklahoma City won Game 1, but a huge shot by James with a minute and a half remaining in Game 2 helped the Heat tie the series. He did not freeze up in any of the fourth quarters as we had grown accustomed to seeing. Before his leg cramps in Game 4 forced him to sit out the final few minutes, they did not prevent him from hitting big shots down the stretch.
When it came time to close the deal, James took Game 5 by the throat and recorded his first triple-double of the playoffs – 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists – en route to a blowout victory for the Heat and their second world championship since 2006.
After this excruciatingly long road, LeBron James is finally an NBA champion, and with all of the questions thoroughly answered, the best could be yet to come.
Image Courtesy of Keith Allison