52 weeks ago the basketball world witnessed a jubilant LeBron James jumping up and down like a kid on Christmas morning as the clock ticked down toward his coronation. He spent his postseason tearing through The Hunger Games to distract himself from the outside noise that was beginning to doubt his ability to close out games. He supposedly rose up above his critics and wrote his own legacy.
On Tuesday night, as game 6 slipped away, LeBron James looked just like his headband, lost. His eyes were distant, he turned the ball over twice in the last 80 seconds of the game. He hit one big three, but missed two others (his two misses resulted in offensive rebounds and made three pointers, one by Ray Allen and one by LeBron). He stood with his team during the last few timeouts looking shellshocked. What was he thinking in those moments? I have no idea. I can guess he was thinking about himself and the narrative that a game 6 loss was going to create.
It would have generated a year of turmoil where LeBron’s future would have been up in the air (would he leave Miami? Would he return to Cleveland? Are the Lakers a possibility?). It would have generated new questions about his legacy. It would have given the LeBron haters new material. It would have allowed the basketball purists to stand up and be counted because a team that “played the right way” beat the Big Three.
LeBron’s narrative was slowly shifting from prodigy to lovable loser. He would have been 1-3 in the Finals if they lost Game 6. It’s an astounding thought, LeBron would have become Phil Mickelson, the Cubs, or Peyton Manning.
Then Ray Allen and Chris Bosh stepped in a changed the narrative with one rebound and three pointer.
Instead of a lovable loser, LeBron showed up in Game 7 and played a wonderful game. He proved his jumper was a viable threat. The Spurs crumbled, Tim Duncan missed a bunny to tie the game with 48 seconds left and Tony Parker was left on the bench.
Then David Stern stood up and stumbled through his speech like a drunk best man. He handed LeBron the Bill Russell MVP Trophy along with the Larry O’Brien Trophy. LeBron stood, arms open and
posed preened sneered at the camera. He looked angry, the opposite of last year’s jovial and relieved kid-like reaction.
The fun-loving and effervescent Doris Burke asked LeBron a few questions and LeBron decided to take the moment and make it all about him: “I work on my game a lot, throughout the off season, I put a lot of work into it, and to be able to come out here and the results happen out on the floor, its the ultimate, the ultimate. I’m lost for words.” Not a single note about the rest of his team. The work they put in. The time coach Spo spent building an offense around LeBron. Nothing.
Next, Lebron decided to state his lack of concern for the outside world and what they think about him. This stoked the crowd up (obviously, because if Lebron ever cared about what others thought, this would never have happened…it’s actually eerie listening to him talk about why he went to Miami. Because frankly, he nailed it.)
All of this came 48 hours after Ray Allen pulled the Heat out of the fire. All of the preening and scowling and self-centered discussion after Lebron was bailed out at the end of game 6 by his teammates.
Obviously,, Lebron was a huge part of this series and his play in the fourth quarter of both game 6 and game 7 was vital in the victories. However, it’s a shame that he didn’t take a single moment to talk about his teammates and the role an entire group played in winning back-to-back champions.
Something tells me we’re heading towards a new Lebron. One that is focused now on one thing, six. Six rings. Maybe even seven. He said he wanted to be the best ever. Now, we get to see if he can do it, and if he’ll be wearing a smile or a sneer.