LeBron James: Love Him or Hate Him, It's Time to Appreciate His Greatness

Mike SalvatoreCorrespondent IIIJune 22, 2012

Has it already been two years since LeBron James’s infamous decision? Since he spurned his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and elected to take his talents to South Beach?

James probably never imagined his much-anticipated decision would result in him becoming the most despised villain in basketball—perhaps even all of sports.

For two years, LeBron James has had to shoulder the burden of the highest expectations. From forming “Big Threes” and holding pep rallies for his new fanbase, while dealing with the criticism that he "sold out" and needed help to win a title.

I am not a LeBron James apologist—not in the least. Like most of you, I was disgusted at the way James turned his back on Cleveland in order to take the yellow brick road down in Miami.

I cheered as LeBron and his Heat teammates were denied their first chance at glory last year when they were defeated by the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, especially when James appeared to shrink from the big moments yet again.

However, a funny thing happened during the 2012 playoffs. LeBron found his switch, and man did he keep that switch turned way up.

James averaged 30.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and nearly six assists for the entire playoffs. To put that in perspective, only one other player in history has accomplished that feat, and that was Oscar Robertson.

Couple that with the fact that LeBron averaged nearly 44 minutes per game during the playoffs, while playing shutdown defense and often guarding the opposition’s best player.

He also won the MVP award for the third time in his career in the abbreviated 2011-2012 season.

Perhaps the biggest knock against James is that he shies away from the big spots and defers too often to his teammates.

Well, if not for his Game 6 masterpiece in an elimination game in Boston, the Heat probably wouldn't have won the title.

Having said that, maybe it was the huge three-pointer that he hit in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, when he was battling leg cramps so intense that he had to sit out the last 55 seconds of the game?

The Miami Heat are a talented team, no doubt. However, during their drive to the NBA Championship, Chris Bosh missed significant time due to injury and Dwyane Wade did not play up to his usual high standards. Yes, he had help, but the Heat won the title because of LeBron James.

I still have a strong disdain for James stemming from The Decision, but after the masterpiece he put together during the playoffs, it’s awfully hard to not respect his game.

Some pundits will say James won his title because he surrounded himself with two other elite players.

The fact is, Michael Jordan didn’t win until he had Scottie Pippen. Kobe Bryant didn’t win until he was paired up with Shaq. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had the benefit of playing with established Hall of Fame players as well.

Maybe it’s time to stop the hate, and start to appreciate.