Every great athlete experiences defining moments in their career. For LeBron James, Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals was one of those defining moments. It was a ceremony, a rite of passage and a coronation all at the same time. It took nine long seasons, but the King has finally been crowned.
Two years after 'the Decision' that changed the face of the NBA, LeBron can finally call himself a champion. The three-time MVP also added a Finals MVP to his trophy cabinet after dominating Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder for five games.
With that prestigious honor, James becomes just the 10th player in NBA history to win an MVP, Finals MVP and a championship ring in the same season. LeBron joins an exclusive club that also features Willis Reed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan. Elite company to say the least.
But to remember LeBron's 2012 postseason just for his Finals performance would be one way of overlooking the totality of one of the greatest individual playoff runs in NBA history, for James' dominant display was a lesson in versatility to the final whistle. Whether he was guarding Kevin Garnett or Kevin Durant, carrying the scoring load or playing full-time facilitator, LeBron showed us why he's the best and most valuable player in the league.
Putting LeBron's performance in a historical perspective is not an easy task considering the countless legendary performances of the past. Having said this, I cannot recall another example of a star silencing every critic with such emphasis in the space of just 23 games.
After a disastrous 2011 Finals campaign, James' mental toughness was repeatedly questioned due to his failures to step up in clutch situations when the game was on the line. But this time, James showed up in a big way every time his team needed him to.
Trailing a gritty Pacers team two games to one, James produced a spectacular all-around effort, finishing with 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.
Facing elimination against the veteran Celtics, LeBron outdid himself with 45 points, 15 boards and five assists in what was one of the most pressure filled games of his career. These numbers are matched in the playoffs only by statistical phenoms Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain. Even in Game 4 of the Finals, after being carried off the court with severe cramps, LeBron returned to hit what proved to be one of the most important shots of the game—a pull up three in the final minutes of the game that can only be described as Jordanesque.
James has also surpassed legends such as Larry Bird and Charles Barkley by becoming the first player to ever record at least 650 points, 200 rebounds and 100 assists in one playoff run. Not even the great Michael Jordan is safe—LeBron has now scored 25 or more points in 15 straight playoff games in a single postseason. No one else, not even Jordan, has ever accomplished that feat.
By recording his eighth playoff triple-double in the closeout Game 5, LeBron becomes just the fifth player in NBA history to deliver a triple-double in a closeout game in the Finals, joining the likes of Tim Duncan (2003), James Worthy (1988), Larry Bird (1986) and Magic Johnson (1985 and 1982).
He has also now led his team in points, rebounds and assists in 25 games in his playoff career, by far the most of any other player in league history. Larry Bird ranks second in this category, leading his team in points, rebounds and assists just 13 times in the playoffs.
In terms of advanced statistics, James has reigned supreme in a similar fashion. He has accumulated the second most win shares of all time for a single playoff run, trailing only Tim Duncan in 2003. He also recorded the 14th highest playoff PER (Player Efficiency Rating) with a staggering 30.34 rating. James has led the league in PER in the regular season every year since 2008 and led the league in win shares in the regular season every year since 2009.
Although LeBron often made it look easy, Miami’s championship did not come without a fight. The Heat had to deal with an injury to Chris Bosh and the inconsistencies of Dwyane Wade on the way to the title. Furthermore, the 2012 Miami Heat is now the first team in NBA history to win the championship despite trailing in three different playoff series (to Indiana, Boston and Oklahoma City).
Perhaps most importantly, LeBron James has finally achieved a lifelong goal that is beyond the measure of statistics. He’s a true NBA champion that has earned his ring just as much as any other legend in the history of the game. By winning a ring in such dominant fashion, James has secured his legacy as well as his place amongst the greatest players of all time. Even if you hate LeBron for what he did to Cleveland, if you love the sport of basketball, you should appreciate the greatness of what is transpiring right now. LeBron James finally seems to have figured it all out, and the rest of the NBA can only watch as the King takes his throne atop the basketball world.