The Arkitekt’s Perspective by Nelly Semela
Alright, it’s time for this writer to eat a little crow. I won’t say anything to diminish this moment for LeBron James, the new ‘King’ of the NBA. Third time in the championship round proved to be a charm for LBJ as he finally got to sixteen postseason wins, the number displayed on his infamous mouth guard in Roman numerals. It took a consistently great statistical effort and a lot of help from role players like Mike Miller, Shane Battier, and Mario Chalmers; it took a heavy dose of the Big Three of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron himself, but eventually, the Miami Heat captured their second title in seven years.
“About damn time,” LeBron said when asked directly after the game about how he feels to finally be holding the Larry O’Brien trophy. I think the world of sports fans will have to agree; it has been nine long years since the gifted forward was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers and immediately compared to the greatest players in NBA history. With names like ‘The Chosen One’ and ‘King James’ given to him prematurely, the pressure seemed to mount every year on the young star to put it all together and be the last man standing in June. All of the pressure came to a head starting last year with The Decision to leave Cleveland for South Beach.
Critics will continue to remind us what LeBron hasn’t yet accomplished. I don’t feel badly for him, mostly because he invited such skepticism when he promised, “Not one, not two, not three…” – well, you get the point! James has not seven, not six, not five, not four, not three, not two, but one ring. He also has one Bill Russell Finals MVP award, and the namesake of that honor outclasses everybody with his eleven NBA Championships. Let’s not even go there.
LeBron’s demeanor toward the media following the center-court coronation was a mix of cheeky, relieved, and humble. As Dwyane Wade prophetically said in his post-game presser, “none of us knows what it’s like to be LeBron James. I don’t know what it’s like, and I’ve gone through a lot.” Wade, having won his first title alongside the great Shaquille O’Neal, admits that he hasn’t faced the scrutiny for the past nine years that his teammate has. He also admits that LeBron is the best player in the world right now, and that it doesn’t take away from his own role to defer to James.
Part of the problem for LeBron and many other great NBA players is the tremendous shadow cast by Michael Jordan. MJ rose to prominence in an era without Twitter and the 24-hour news cycle and, while he did play against some of the greatest players of all time, his team was built perfectly around his skills set and they had the perfect coach for the cast of characters in the locker room. LeBron didn’t have that in Cleveland for seven years, and while many fans would say he gave up on the team that drafted him too quickly, it’s tough to blame him for seeking out the right opportunity. Clyde Drexler isn’t a villain for going to play with Hakeem Olajuwon to win a ring, and Reggie Miller will always be a Hall-of-Famer with no NBA title for having stayed in Indiana his whole career. Charles Barkley waited too long to take his talents to Houston and ended up retiring with fewer championships than LeBron now has. I’m no King James apologist – never have been – but the actual choice to play with Dwyane Wade was if nothing else a savvy one.
The chances of LeBron winning five times like Kobe and Magic, six times like Michael and Kareem, or eleven times like Bill Russell are slimmer than the man who most visibly stands in the way of that: Kevin Durant. I have a sneaking feeling that the Heat’s time may have come and gone, much like the Big Three in Boston, in the pat two seasons while Kevin and his point guard Russell Westbrook are more likely on the brink of a dynasty built to last in the way that the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s were. If I’m wrong, maybe we can see the greatest alternation of championships since the Golden Age of Bird and Magic – also the greatest rivalry since.
Whatever we will say about LeBron for the next nine years, he may have said it all when he smiled, still clutching his trophy tightly, and said “I’m a champion, that’s all that matters.”