In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, LeBron James dispelled all his ghosts of fourth-quarter past with a display of strength that evoked another legendary NBA Championship moment.
When the Knicks faced the Lakers in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA finals, injured Knick star Willis Reed set off an explosion of cheers as he ran through the tunnel of Madison Square Garden. Fans had worried that his severe thigh injury would relegate him to a suit on the bench, so the sight of the hobbled Reed willing his body into a running entrance unleashed a torrent of relief and excitement.
Reed limped up and down the floor, but he scored two baskets to create a tidal wave of emotional momentum, which swept the Lakers off the court.
There were similar emotional waves in Game 4 of the 2012 finals.
Anxiety levels in American Airlines Arena soared when LeBron went down. With LeBron dealing with debilitating cramps late in the fourth quarter, it looked like the tide would turn in OKC's favor.
LeBron, though, pushed himself down the floor and banked in a jumper before exiting for treatment on the bench at the 5:15 mark.
OKC grabbed the lead in his absence.
After a tense 55 seconds, LeBron limped back to the scorer's table. As he re-entered the game, the Miami faithful let loose a roar of approval and support that could have drowned out the most vociferous LeBron hate.
LeBron's critics have had a trump card on him: "No championship." And they have wielded it with various taunts:
"You shrink in the fourth quarter, LeBron. You hang back and shoot weak-willed jumpers instead of manning up to the rim. Remember Dallas? You just don't have it in you. You have an overgrown ego and an underdeveloped will to win."
Now there was injury added to all those insults as his body was betraying him on the precipice of a victory that would do all but seal a Heat championship, When he needed them most, LeBron was stripped of all those athletic abilities that have made him the scorn of critics who insist they would have won games that LeBron lost if they had his spectacular talents.
Gone for the moment was his prodigious leap. There would be no thundering slam on this occasion.
So with 2:51 remaining on the clock, and the game tied at 94, LeBron did all he could do with muscles that were conspiring against him, contracting in their own disordered course.
He caught the ball and-—critics be damned-—he rose to shoot. But there was nothing weak-willed about this shot attempt.
Propelled by steely concentration and championship fire, LeBron launched a three deep into the heart of every critical argument ever marshaled against him.
In a game that he could not ultimately finish on the floor, LeBron finished it all: the debates, the critiques and the unfounded loathing.
And he did it with the only ability he had in the moment: heart!