The moment is near...LeBron James is dangerously close to his first championship—which even a blind man can see coming a mile away—and Heat fans are no doubt just as thrilled at getting the chip as they are about the presumption that LeBron's critics will soon disappear as a result.
It's a widely held assumption in Miami that there has to be some scenario in which his critics can be discredited and silenced; they won't allow themselves to believe—LeBron especially—that they're powerless to rehabilitate his reputation, because that just wouldn't be fair.
First, they wishfully assumed people would leave LeBron alone once the bad taste of "The Decision" wore off, as well as the outpouring of sympathy for the city of Cleveland. Surely, once people swallowed that pill, they'd have to respect him again, right?
Wrong. People continued to dislike LeBron—and by association, his team—for his arrogant attitude, planet-sized ego and undeserved swagger ("not one, not two...") At this point, the average Miami fan realized that time alone would not fix LeBron's image; something needed to happen in order to force the naysayers to shut up. A championship normally cures all ills, therefore once LeBron takes it home, surely the critics will have nothing left to criticize, correct?
It's a nice thought. In a perfect world, there might be some way for LeBron to get out from under the cloud of criticism, doubt and derision that's followed him around since July 2010. Unfortunately, in the real world—which LeBron hasn't visited in years—there are people putting themselves in no-win situations every day.
For LeBron James, this is one of those situations, whether he can conceive of it or not. In a world where respect earned for an accomplishment is commensurate to the effort expended and the obstacles overcome, the less adversity you face, the fewer the bragging rights.
True or false: A ring is a ring. The journey doesn't matter.
These days, getting excited about a Miami Heat championship requires one to buy into the assumption that a ring is a ring, no matter how it's obtained... and this is where fans and critics will never agree.
Make no mistake: The moment this team formed, even its most vehement hater had no choice but to acknowledge that a championship is inevitable. It's not even fair...so under these most ideal circumstances ever, how much bragging can one really do?
The majority of LeBron's critics—at least, those not stubbornly hung up on The Decision or the fate of Cleveland—criticize him precisely on these grounds. It rubs people the worst way that he is arranging to take the least heroic road to a title, while still expecting to be counted among the heroes once he arrives.
Unfortunately, when (not if) LeBron wins a ring, his heart and personal mettle will never be proven the way they normally are by winning a title; he'll be remembered as the most heavily-favored player ever merely traveling the path of least resistance.
With even the critics already convinced that he's sure to win a title with this team built around him, actually doing so will not prove anyone wrong. It will only leave them as nonplussed as ever at the guy who expects to be the greatest in the hearts and minds of the public, but doesn't seem to want to put in the same work as others.
Miami fans interpret this as people who hate LeBron for arbitrary reasons deliberately looking for a way to withhold credit from him when he wins a ring; in reality, it's the other way around... People who criticize him for his questionably easy path to a title will simply not be given any reason to see it any differently.
Which of these best describes LeBron James?
For people who aren't already rooting for him, there's simply no condition under which a ring can restore LeBron's image.
But what about his personal performances along the way? Can't he shut some people up by dropping some monster games? Not really; he's looking to silence critics by proving them wrong about him, but he's not really showing people anything new by putting up huge numbers. If a guy has put up a 50-point triple-double before, what can he possibly show us—individually speaking—except more of the same? Impressive, yes, but nothing we didn't already know when we started doubting him.
Meanwhile, should the unthinkable happen—I feel insane for even raising the possibility—and LeBron doesn't win a single ring even with this team, he will be an utter and complete laughingstock. It would be tantamount to a young Mike Tyson failing to knock out a 90-pound teenager: amazing talent, amazing leg up, amazing failure, from someone with fans calling him the greatest.
The greatest players ever generally can be described by one word: warrior. LeBron James' competitively evasive career path, along with his artificially self-assured attitude, evokes another term altogether: bully. A warrior looks forward to a fight and finds some way to win; a bully only gets into fights so lopsided he's convinced he can't lose.
The "king" can most certainly seek whatever personal satisfaction may come from winning championships in this fashion, but he and his fans have to accept that they're not going to enjoy the boost in stature that traditionally comes from rising to a challenge (which is precisely what LeBron sought to avoid in South Beach.) Not with the odds so heavily arranged in their favor.
From a purely basketball-related standpoint, people hoping for critics to quiet down will only end up disappointed. LeBron has made his decision, and whether he understood this or not at the time, his options are pretty much set in terms of non-partisan public opinion.
If he wins, he's a bully with delusions of legendary status.
If he loses, he's a legendary failure.
Take your pick, Miami...and as always, feel free to exercise your God-given right to denial. Just know: What you will no doubt dismiss as "hating," we prefer to call "standards."