It's the nightmare every hater across the universe has feared might become a reality since the summer of 2010: LeBron James always had the talent, but he might finally be mentally prepared enough to win it all this year.
By now, James has learned from his mistakes in the past. He's learned that being the best player in the NBA is fine, but people aren't going to get off your back until you've won a title. He's learned that being an MVP is meaningless unless you can be the MVP in May and June, too.
The 2012 version of LeBron appears to be different from editions past. When he got his MVP trophy this year—his third, tying him with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell and Moses Malone—he accepted it with grace and poise, but this year, he also managed to keep his head in the game, despite the accolades.
When commissioner David Stern handed over the trophy, LeBron accepted it in front of his home crowd, but quickly proclaimed to ESPN.com's Michael Wallace, "It didn't take another MVP trophy for me to want an NBA championship. I'd give all three of them back for an NBA championship."
The magic words.
Of course, in typical LeBron fashion, he overcooked it by about a zillion degrees, sprinkling the word "team" over his next few sentences more often than Tim Tebow said "excited" at his first Jets presser. But he left the undeniable impression that he's ready for it this time: Ready to take down the Pacers, the Sixers, the Celtics or whoever might stand in his way of a date with Kevin Durant in the NBA Finals.
After taking down Indiana in Game 1 of the semifinals on Sunday, LeBron is one step closer. Eleven more wins to go
He knows this year will give him as good a shot as any year. The Bulls are out, and either team the Heat face in the Eastern Conference finals will be overmatched by either talent or athleticism. The finals will be a battle, but after making a trip to the season finale last season, he'll be better prepared for it.
LeBron has always had the tools to win a title. He's unquestionably the most physically gifted player in the NBA, and he has a better supporting cast than anyone in the NBA, except possibly Kevin Durant. He should be able to win a title.
All that needed to change was his mindset. MVP or not, when it comes to winning a title, it's not about doing everything by yourself; it's about how you use your teammates to make it happen.
It's almost hard to envision this 2012 edition of LeBron pulling the "The Decision" stunt.
Almost. Some things never change.