He is the best player on the best team – an appropriate place for a superior athlete that responded to a year of anguish with an unbending purpose and focus.
Once more in the NBA Finals, James led the Heat to victory, a 121-106 conquest over the young and talented Oklahoma City Thunder Thursday night that delivered to Miami its second NBA championship.
In the moments after winning the series 4-1, James composed himself long enough to put the accomplishment into perspective.
“It means everything,” he said. “I made a difficult decision to leave Cleveland. But I understood what my future was about. . . I knew we had a bright future.”
It did not always look so bright, though. They were down in the Indiana series and Boston extended the Heat. In each case, however, James was magnificent, providing an all-around effort – including clutch performances – to pull Miami from the brink of disaster.
Thursday night, he was again a difference-maker. He solidified the Finals MVP award by spinning a triple-double of 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists. If there was one player that exemplified the desperation in the moment, it was James. He was driven at once by the lure of success and the fear of defeat.
“Losing in the finals last year put me back in place,” James said. “It humbled me a lot. I went back to the basics. I looked at myself in the mirror and I had to be better on and off the floor.”
He not only was better, but he was better than everyone else.
“We had so much pain, so much hurt, so much embarrassment from last year, nothing had to be said,” star guard Dwyane Wade said on the championship platform after the game. “From Christmas day, we’ve been on a mission and it wasn’t accomplished until now.”
Funny, but for all the talk of Miami being a flawed team devoid of depth, it was James’ supporting cast that provided the fuel to the Heat’s fire. In Game 4, lightly regarded Mario Chalmers had 25 points. Shane Battier was a terror from long distance. In the clincher, Mike Miller, the forward whose body is broken down, drained seven three-point shots for 23 points.
Wade, who admirably accepted the secondary role to James, provided strong assistance along the way, and Chris Bosh, the third member of the Big Three, really opened up the game when he returned from an abdominal strain.
Still, it all goes back to James. He went from beloved superstar to polarizing figure for the way he departed Cleveland – nationally televised announcement, flashy introduction in Miami and boasting of multiple championships before even playing a game. People were rubbed the wrong way.
If winning it all does not repair his image, his decorum along the way could. He has been humble and focused. In the third quarter, when Chalmers implored the crowd to get louder, James called over the point guard and told him it was, in essence, inappropriate to lose concentration at that time. There was still a game to be won, a championship to be won.
The old LeBron James might have joined in on the hijinx. But his disposition has been one of business. With 3:34 to play in the third quarter, the Heat held a 19-point lead. To most everyone, the game was over. Yet, James called together his teammates and demanded they continue to grind. And they did, blowing open the game.
He and OKC’s Kevin Durant (32 points) shared an extended embrace when it was over. The Thunder are youthful and this failure surely will help build character. No one knows that better than LeBron James.
As confetti rained from the rafters at American Airlines Arena and fans cheered their new champions, James answered the question on what he felt when the clock reached all zeroes.
“It’s about damn time,” he said. “It’s about damn time.”