As the NBA Finals draw near, LeBron James can temporarily silence his horde of outspoken critics with one ring. Although it may hinge on Chris Bosh's strained abdomen, LeBron will return to his South Beach abode with the ultimate résumé builder—a championship.
The fun-loving, worshiped icon that became the pride and joy of Cleveland seems like a distant illusion from yesteryear.
In the large part, the media has vilified LeBron since "The Decision" broadcast over airwaves and, perhaps, justifiably so.
Generations of fans disowned their once-coveted No. 23 Cavaliers jersey and repeatedly stomped it as if they were trying to exorcise a deceitful demon.
His journey began in 2003 and for seven years, LeBron symbolized an athletic savior that personified hope to a downtrodden Cleveland fanbase. The locals had been subjugated to decades of disappointment—if the phrase "Cleveland sports championships" is entered into a Google search, the first word that graces the page is "drought."
The original Cleveland Browns traveled eastward to Baltimore. After three years, the NFL breathed new life into the Browns and resurrected the franchise in 1999, but the Dawg Pound was left hounding the team by the dawn of the century.
During the '90s, the Cleveland Indians acquired multiple teams of perennial All-Stars that lived to exasperate opposing pitchers. Rosters headlined by the fleet-footed Kenny Loften, fastball-punishing Albert Belle, and do-it-all first-baseman Jim Thome reinvigorated Clevelanders. However, while the team rapidly ascended MLB's competitive mountain, it slipped at the apex and ultimately lost two World Series.
But at the turn of the century, a new light broke the horizon in the form of a 6'7" high school kid in neighboring Akron.
He represented much more than the prototypical "next big thing" in professional sports. James was still living under his mother's roof while being tagged as the heir to Michael Jordan's throne. As Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated writes in 2002:
Resplendent in a sleek navy blue suit, his burnished dome gleaming in the light, Michael Jordan steps into the tunnel of Cleveland's Gund Arena, flashes a million-watt smile and gives LeBron James, the top high school player in the country, a warm, we're-old-pals handshake. "Where's Mama?" Jordan asks.
It's 10 p.m. on the last night of January, and the moment feels charged, even a little historic. Remember that photograph of a teenaged Bill Clinton meeting JFK? Same vibe
LeBron's story was supposed to mimic that of Joe Mauer's: a highly touted local kid whose mirror portrayed much more than a face, it reflected a franchise—no plot twists were to be written.
Eventually, a jigsaw of unpredictable variables fell perfectly into place as the Cavaliers selected James and the future of an traditionally rich sport resided in Cleveland.
"23" was a harbinger of success and introduced his city to the cusp of it in 2007 with a trip to the NBA Finals.
However, after seven years, the infinitely beloved superstar had two choices: loyalty or legacy.
The latter left the victor.
"Witnesses" couldn't believe what their eyes relayed as the truth and LeBron's public image bolted from one extreme to the polar opposite. He headed south, alongside his reputation.
The rest is history, but now, in 2012, LeBron has an opportunity to curtail the self-inflicted damage to his reputation.
Dwyane Wade—his renowned teammate and best friend—anchors the opposite side of a seemingly inseparable bond that, at times, resembles a freight train plowing towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
However, a hindered third wheel may cause a colossal derailment.
A potentially lingering abdominal strain to the often overlooked and under-appreciated Chris Bosh is nothing to scoff at.
A full recovery typically demands weeks, if not months, of rest.
Bosh provides length, rebounding, and a respected threat coming off of pick-and-rolls.
Simply put: he's irreplaceable.
Defensive specialist Joel Anthony and a relentlessly energetic Ronny Turiaf will be fed more minutes, but the tandem likely produce a fraction of what Chris Bosh averages.
Why will LeBron's conquest for what eluded him in 2007 continue?
Because a healthy pairing of James and Wade are capable of outputting points that, sometimes, aren't even duplicated by the adversary's starting five—this is especially true in a weakened Eastern Conference hampered by injuries.
Chris Bosh could return in signature form by the Eastern Conference Finals. As of now, the opposition could consist of Philadelphia or Boston. During the regular season, Miami defeated the 76ers in all four encounters. In the 2011 playoffs, the Heat also shellacked the Celtics in a five-game series.
If Miami climbs to the plateau of the NBA again, it will have to engage and gradually solve a formidable riddle hailing from the west.
The most significant question doesn't pertain to Chris Bosh's health, nor who the team's closer is.
The question that should be asked is: "Can LeBron finally break the nine-year boulder that burdens his shoulders?"
Within the context of organized basketball, James is currently the best player walking earth if statistics serve as the ultimate barometer.
Critics will say otherwise and concocted comparisons will assuredly end somewhere between Kobe's rings, LeBron's MVPs and a hypothetical pick-up game at Rucker Park.
Even with an inferior bench, Miami showcased its unparalleled capabilities last season during its journey to the NBA Finals.
Not only did the Heat upgrade their bench, but last season's conclusion ultimately served as humbling reminder that titles are earned, not given.
The latter consideration could evolve into a blessing in disguise.
Miami's "Big Three" and Co. are as strong as ever within a weakened conference—its road to the Finals essentially equates to a cakewalk by NBA standards.
Rounding off, LeBron James averaged 27 points, two steals, one block, six assists, and eight rebounds per game this season while shooting 53-percent from the field. Add in a former NBA Finals MVP, arguably the best third option in the league, a revamped bench and a Texas-sized slice of humble pie.
The result? A recipe for success.
Spanning the nation, the same fans that were pandering to LeBron during the 2010 offseason metamorphosed into his biggest critics after feeling spurned by him.
Photographs visually symbolized the move to Miami as "James" jerseys were set ablaze, littering the streets of Cleveland.
The critics are only left with one talking point that, ironically, LeBron also shares. After receiving his third MVP, James stated, “I’d give all three back if I could win a championship.” (Sports Illustrated)
Odds are that the preordained "King" takes his throne in July and finally quiets the naysayers.
LeBron James is in pursuit of two things, each of which are golden: a championship trophy and silence.
By summer's end, he will have attained both.
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