Two summers ago professional basketball entered a new era. LeBron James left Cleveland as a free agent and, in what seems to be a choice of words we won’t soon forget, “took his talents to south beach.” The basketball world hasn’t looked back since.
It began with Cleveland fans, to really no surprise. Just seconds after LeBron’s “decision”, ESPN aired footage of piles of LeBron James jerseys being burned by the very populace he embraced for the prior 25 years of his life. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s depressant tweets went viral that night, vowing to his fans a return to dominance without LeBron, and a new era of Cavaliers basketball. It all began to feel like the world was witnessing a really bitter break up.
And it was just getting started.
A day or two passed. And, in a move I’m sure most of the Heat organization now regrets, they decided to introduce their players in front of an arena full of fans, rather than a traditional press conference. Judging by the scene — smoke machines, confetti, screaming fans and a seemingly celebratory Big Three — you’d think they just won a championship. In a league where greatness is judged by championships first, and then numbers, could it get much more inappropriate?
Yes. It could, and it did. Because LeBron James – the immature, inexperienced, championship-less idiot he was two years ago – vowed to his new city that he would win “not just one, not just two, not three, four, five, or six,” but SEVEN championships, before they even played a game together. If you’re a professional athlete and you’re wondering exactly how to turn an entire sport’s fan majority against you, that’s pretty much how its done. It was like adding fuel to a nuke.
So it became not just Cleveland, but the entire country – everyone who’s opinion of LeBron James soured – that would now root against that prophecy. The entire basketball world, whether they liked it or not, was now glued more than anything to the question “Will LeBron James win a championship?”
Last night that question was answered. Averaging more than thirty points and ten rebounds throughout the entire playoffs – something only guys named Shaq, Kareem, and Hakeem have done – LeBron James put the white noise aside and led his team to a championship.
So… what now?
There’s a few ways to go about that question. You could be someone who simply won’t forgive LeBron for the way he mishandled leaving Cleveland. That’s understandable and totally a matter of opinion. My advice? Stay away from ESPN for the next two weeks.
You could be someone who just refuses to give LeBron credit (most likely for “the decision”) and tosses up pathetic excuses for why his championship isn’t legitimate. My advice? Don’t be one of these people.
Or, you could forget about your bias, and look at the facts. You could recognize the fact that LeBron James put up historic numbers this offseason AND Finals; Numbers only put up by three of the greatest centers of all time and Michael Jordan. You could recognize the fact that having other super stars around him doesn’t make his championship any less legitimate (in fact, the more you compare the Heat roster to other championship teams the less impressive it looks, which emphasizes LeBron’s role). Look at Championship teams throughout history and tell me this Heat team ranks anywhere in the top ten even.
You could recognize that LeBron James is already a three time MVP, six-time All-NBA first teamer, four time All-NBA defensive first teamer (consecutively), finals MVP, and NBA champion. He’ll compete for many more of all of those.
You could recognize that by the end of his career, LeBron will be top five all time in scoring, top 50 in rebounding, and top three in assists. His numbers will tower over those of greats like Oscar Robinson, Larry Bird, John Havlicek, and Elgin Baylor.
You could recognize that there’s never been a professional basketball player in the world’s history whose bar has been placed higher than LeBron James’. He’s faced more constant speculation and pressure than anyone the game has seen. And its been since he was 18 years old.
You could recognize that LeBron James should be forgiven, not because you have to like him, but because you have to respect him. He will go down as arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. He’s a champion now, and people are going to have to get used to that.
Pierce Arrow Editorials Editor