LeBron James: A Look Back at His Nine-Year Quest for a Championship
There has probably never been an athlete in sports history who has been more scrutinized throughout his career than LeBron James has.
The story of LeBron James started with an 18-year-old basketball superstar from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. It grew as he became the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft. From there he became a Rookie of the Year and a two-time MVP.
His story continued to grow as he left the Cleveland Cavaliers and the fans that loved him so much, because he wanted to "take his talents to South Beach" in pursuit of winning multiple championships.
Seconds after his "decision" was made, LeBron became one of sports' most hated athletes. He was public enemy number one in nearly every city, except Miami, where he was treated with rock-star status.
LeBron ultimately failed in his first season in Miami, leading to even more backlash from the public. People across the globe rejoiced to see the Miami Heat and their Big Three of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James fail.
But everyone knew that LeBron's title quest had only been delayed. As much as many fans wanted to see him fail, they knew that LeBron would not let failure be an option this time.
This season, LeBron was on a mission. No one was going to get in his way of winning a championship. His entire season was one of the most dominant in the history of sports, and he did not change anything in the postseason.
Everything culminated for LeBron James and the Miami Heat last night. The championship they all so desperately desired finally became their own as they hammered the Thunder in Game 5.
The victory silenced LeBron's critics. He was the league MVP, the Finals MVP and most importantly, he was finally an NBA Champion.
The story of LeBron James certainly has many more chapters to go, but for now here is a look back at how LeBron went from an 18-year-old high school superstar to an NBA Finals Champion and MVP.
High School Phenom
LeBron found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was only a junior in high school.
The consensus from anyone who had seen LeBron play, was that this young kid was destined for greatness. And the consensus was spot-on.
No. 1 Draft Pick
On June 26, 2003, the Cleveland Cavaliers made LeBron James the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft. The Cavaliers now had a player that they could build a championship-contending franchise around.
There could not have been any more hype around LeBron James as he took to the court for his first game in 2003. The hype was so high, it seemed impossible for anyone to live up to.
LeBron managed to live up to it all, though. He scored 25 points in his first game, which is the highest first-game total for any player going straight from high school to the pros.
Rookie of the Year
LeBron excelled all season long for Cleveland. The rookie finished the year with averages of 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game, en route to the 2003-04 Rookie of the Year Award.
On Jan. 19, 2005, nearly halfway through his second NBA season, James became the youngest player in league history to record a triple-double.
That night, he put up 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a 107-101 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
In just his second season in the NBA, James was voted into the All-Star Game. That night, James helped the Eastern Conference win with a strong performance, posting 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Career-High 56 Points
LeBron continued to light things up during his sophomore season in the NBA.
On March 20, 2005, against the Toronto Raptors, LeBron turned in a 56-point performance in a 105-98 loss to the Raptors.
The 56-point mark still stands as the most points that LeBron has ever scored in a game.
LeBron finished off his sophomore campaign averaging 27.2 points, 7.2 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game.
The strong totals helped LeBron become the youngest player ever to be voted to an All-NBA Team, as he was a selection for All-NBA Second Team.
All-Star Game MVP
James continued to grow into one of the NBA's elite players during his third season.
At the All-Star Game in Houston, James took home MVP honors by scoring 29 points in a victory for the East.
At only 21 years and 51 days old, LeBron became the youngest player ever to win the award.
Finally, in his third year the Cavaliers were playoff bound. In his playoff debut, LeBron recorded 32 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds to lead the Cavaliers to a 97-86 victory over the Washington Wizards.
James became only the third player in NBA history to record a triple-double in a playoff debut, The other two players were Johnny McCarthy and Magic Johnson.
Loss to Detroit
The first of LeBron's many painful playoff exits took place in the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Detroit Pistons.
Cleveland fought hard, but in the end, the defending Eastern Conference Champions prevailed in seven games.
Eastern Conference Champs
LeBron led the Cavaliers right back to the playoffs in his fourth year in the league. The Cavs rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs that year, before running into the Detroit Pistons yet again.
In Game 5, LeBron turned in one of the most memorable performances of his career. He scored 48 points in the game, including the final 25 points and the game winning layup with just two seconds left as the Cavaliers won in double overtime.
They would go onto win the Eastern Conference Finals in six games.
Swept from the Finals
The Cavaliers were the Eastern Conference Champions in 2007, but unfortunately that was as far as they would go as they ran into a juggernaut in the San Antonio Spurs.
LeBron and the Cavaliers fought valiantly, but were ultimately swept by a far superior team.
2008 All Star Game MVP
LeBron once again put up another massive performance in the 2008 All-Star Game and was once again named the MVP, as he helped the East defeat the West 134-128.
Youngest to 10,000
On Feb. 27, 2008 James became the youngest player in NBA history to score 10,000 points in a career.
At only 23 years old, James shattered the previous mark by over a year. That season, he also became the Cavaliers' all-time scoring leader.
Cavs Fall to Celtics Part One
The Cavaliers again looked like a strong team heading into the playoffs, but unfortunately they ran into the Big Three of the Boston Celtics.
In Game 7 of the series, James and Paul Pierce went into a memorable battle, but although James outscored Pierce 45-41, Boston won the game.
Olympic Gold Medalist
Following the 2008 season, LeBron traveled to the Beijing Olympics as a member of the Team USA Basketball Team. The team was dominant throughout the tournament and ultimately walked away with the gold.
In 2009, LeBron finally reached the pinnacle of individual greatness as he was crowned the MVP. That season James averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game.
The award was the first of the three that he has won, but there are likely more to come as he continues his great career.
Conference Finals Loss to Orlando
With LeBron winning the MVP and Cleveland posting a record of 66-16 during the regular season, fans across the country thought that this would finally be the year for Cleveland.
After rolling through the first two rounds though, the Cavs ran into some adversity with the Orlando Magic.
LeBron put together a heroic series, but ultimately the Magic were too much for Cleveland to handle and they were defeated in six games.
'Win a Ring for the King'
Youngest to 15,000
On March 13, 2010 in a 92-85 win over the Chicago Bulls, James became the youngest player in NBA history to score 15,000 points.
After finishing the 2010 season averaging 29.7 points, 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game, LeBron won the second MVP award of his career and his second in a row.
With the MVP and the No. 1 seed for the second year in a row, the Cavaliers once again looked primed to win a championship.
Cavs Fall to Celtics Part Two
The 2010 season came to a bitter ending though for LeBron and the Cavaliers.
The Celtics dismantled Cleveland in six games, and as LeBron removed his Cleveland jersey after walking off the court following Game 6, fans across the world wondered whether they would ever see him put the Cleveland jersey on again.
2010 Free Agency
The courting of LeBron James during the 2010 offseason was absolutely insane. Teams from across the country flew in constantly to meet with LeBron.
Everyone wanted him and everyone came up with good reasons for why they would get him, but no one would know for sure until The Decision aired.
"In this fall...this is very tough...in this fall I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat. I feel like it's going to give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years, and not only just to win in the regular season or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row, I want to be able to win championships. And I feel like I can compete down there." - LeBron James
And so with those words, LeBron went from one of the most loved sports athletes in the world to one of the most hated.
The backlash LeBron received for making his decision was impossible to predict.
Cleveland fans were devastated as they heard on national television that their superstar was leaving to "take his talents to South Beach."
The city of Cleveland tried as best they could to erase every memory they had of LeBron James.
As the Miami Heat Big Three partied with their fans in a rock-star atmosphere, the rest of the world looked on in disgust.
Fans also had the privilege of listening to LeBron say that the Heat would win more than seven championships.
The Big Three of Miami made their debut in Boston against the Celtics on Oct. 26, 2010.
LeBron led the way for the Heat with 31 points, but in the end, the veteran Celtics prevailed 88-80 over the star-studded Miami Heat.
Return to Cleveland
It was one of the most hostile sports environments that anyone could ever enter.
The Cleveland fans booed LeBron nonstop every time he touched the ball, and they frequently broke out into chants of "Akron Hates You! Akron Hates You! Akron Hates You!"
In the end, though, LeBron scored 38 points against his old team, and Miami prevailed in a blowout 118-90.
LeBron Finally Survives Boston
One of the biggest reasons the Miami Heat came together and made the Big Three was because the Boston Celtics came together a few years before and made their own Big Three.
In the playoffs, LeBron was stopped by the Boston Celtics on two separate occasions in Cleveland, but in Miami it would be a different story.
With LeBron putting up three performances in which he scored over 30 points in the series, the Heat rolled through the Celtics in five games.
Eastern Conference Champs
All Miami had left to deal with in the East were the Chicago Bulls and league MVP Derrick Rose. The Bulls denied the Heat of the No. 1 overall seed during the regular season, but they certainly were not going to be denied of the Eastern Conference Title.
After dropping Game 1of the series, Miami stormed back to win the next four, and send themselves to the NBA Finals in just the first year of the Big Three Era.
NBA Finals Heartbreak
With Miami rolling through the first three rounds of the 2011 playoffs in five games each, it appeared that no one, not even the Western Conference Champion Dallas Mavericks would be able to stop Miami.
Inexplicably though, LeBron James struggled mightily. With James playing at such a subpar level, the Heat were not nearly the same team that they were in the first three rounds of the postseason.
The Mavericks took advantage of LeBron's inability to step up, and in six games they were the champs.
Of all the playoff exits LeBron had throughout his time in Cleveland, this one appeared to be more bitter than them all.
LeBron was scrutinized more than ever during the 2011 offseason, and with a possible lockout on the horizon, many fans wondered when LeBron would finally get his next chance to silence all the critics.
Christmas Day 2011
After being locked out for the first few months of the season, the NBA got back into full swing on Christmas Day of 2011. First on the agenda for Miami, a rematch with the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks received their championship rings and raised their championship banner before the game, and then they were bludgeoned by the Heat onslaught.
LeBron led the way with 37 points as the Heat showed the world that in 2012, they would not slip up.
At the conclusion of the 2012 regular season, LeBron received his third MVP award of his career. James was on a mission throughout the entire 2012 regular season.
He averaged 27.1 points, 6.2 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game en route to the award. This time around, James appeared primed to lead his team to the title.
Eastern Conference Champs Again
After getting through the first two rounds of the 2012 NBA playoffs, Miami was once again up against the Boston Celtics. The Celtics were aged veterans, but they were still extremely talented and would push Miami to the limit.
The series went a thrilling seven games, but in the end, Miami was too strong.
James put up a 45-point performance to help the Heat prevail in Game 6, and then followed that up with a 31-point performance to send the Heat back to the NBA Finals.
Finally an NBA Finals Champion
The 2012 NBA Playoffs left us with the dream matchup.
LeBron vs. Durant.
Thunder vs. Heat.
It was set to be an exciting seven-game series that would be one for the history books, but LeBron and the Heat were ready to win the title, and it was not going to take seven games. Miami dropped Game 1 of the series, but came back to win close contests in each of the next three games.
In Game 5 though, Miami dropped the hammer. They unloaded on the Thunder for a full 48 minutes and at the end, they were the champs.
In the middle of the court stood James. Holding up the championship trophy he had so desperately desired throughout his entire life. He had finally completed his dream. He could finally call himself an NBA Champion.
When asked about winning James simply said, "It's a dream come true." And he also added, "It's about damn time."