Lebron James got his. Today, Lebron wakes up an NBA champion. No words could put a more enormous smile on that huge mug of his. As for us, the citizens, the “witnesses,” we have a hard reality to swallow. I admit I was very much in the camp of those who didn’t want to see James succeed. But let’s give Lebron James the credit that he is due – the Heat played a practically flawless game to close out Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder. And after last season’s Finals, Lebron was able to suck it up this year and get it done. That’s the world we live in today, the world where the villain always wins. Corporations are raking in all the dough, the Red Sox are sucking it up once again, and Lebron James is winning NBA championships.
One thing that is clear to me is that contrary to what I’ve heard on ESPN, Lebron will still have plenty of critics. Rest assured this win was a massive weight off of Lebron’s shoulders, and it certainly cements his place in the history of the game very much so. I’m sure Lebron genuinely feels like he can die happy today, although I know he’s hungry for many more championships. But I think to the average fan, Lebron just can’t win us over that easily. I wrote last week about Tiger Woods being misunderstood, and I think Lebron James is very much so as well (albeit for vastly different reasons). Some of his comments continue to come off with an air of smugness, and even when fans are smart enough to recognize that they weren’t meant in the way that they sound they continue to judge Lebron for this.
Perhaps worse, Lebron continues to get some crazy calls that other players in the league don’t get. Some of it is unfair in that it’s brought upon him by his own incredible talents – his speed and size allow him to take nearly any contact and still finish the basket while seemingly plowing through opponents, but he does also get calls that are just unfair. Derrick Fisher’s apparent “flagrant” foul last night was an absolutely absurd call and an example of pathetic refereeing, for example. But let’s not discredit Lebron or his championship one bit – the man had a triple double last night, led by example, and has been fantastic throughout the playoffs.
Simply put, the Miami Heat played like champions last night, and OKC sure didn’t. I give the Heat even more credit, because I think the Thunder team that they just beat is a significantly better team than the Dallas Mavericks who beat them last season. When you have a player like Mike Miller going 7-8 from the 3-point line (one of the best sharp shooter performances in NBA history) and Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers contributing as they did, this team simply wasn’t going to lose.
So will Lebron James be transformed from villain to hero? Will the man ever be loved? I don’t think that transformation will be immediate now that Lebron has won. I think Lebron has silenced his critics, shown the world that he was right in departing Cleveland for Miami, and proved that he’s matured a good deal. But ultimately it’s easy to hate any prodigy who comes off with any degree of smugness. I think that 20 years from now Lebron James will be viewed very differently than he is today, but I think Lebron won’t be loved by the casual fan until the twilight of his career. At that point people will begin to respect him for all of the championships he’ll win between now and then, as well as for his contributions to the game as whole. For now I know that I’ll continue to root against him, despite the fact that I know he’s a championship caliber player and he’s not the guy his critics have made him out to be.
As for the Thunder, all I have to say is this; Kevin Durant is 23, Russell Westbrook is 23, and James Harden is 22. These guys need to take a couple on the chin, as Lebron did, before they get theirs. But rest assured they will get theirs – and I for one can’t wait to watch the Heat and Thunder go at it again.