LeBron James got his.
On Friday, James wakes up an NBA champion. No words could put a more enormous smile on that huge mug of his. As for us, the citizens, the “witnesses,” we have a hard reality to swallow.
I admit I was very much in the camp of those who didn’t want to see James succeed. But let’s give him the credit that he is due—the Heat played a practically flawless game to close out Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
After last season’s finals loss, LeBron was able to suck it up this year and get it done. That is the world we live in today, the world where the villain always wins. Corporations are raking in all the dough, the Red Sox are sucking it up once again and LeBron James is winning NBA Championships.
One thing that is clear to me is that contrary to what I’ve heard on ESPN, LeBron will still have plenty of critics. Rest assured this win was a massive weight off of LeBron’s shoulders, and it certainly cements his place in the history of the game. I’m sure LeBron genuinely feels like he can die happy today, although I know he is hungry for many more championships.
But LeBron just can’t win the average fan over that easily.
I wrote last week about Tiger Woods being misunderstood, and I think LeBron James is very much so as well (albeit for vastly different reasons). Some of his comments continue to come off with an air of smugness, and even when fans are smart enough to recognize that the smug-sounding comments weren’t meant in a bad way, they continue to judge LeBron.
Perhaps worse, LeBron continues to get some crazy calls that other players in the league don’t get.
Some of it is unfair in that it was brought upon him by his own incredible talents—his speed and size allow him to take nearly any contact and still finish the basket while seemingly plowing through opponents, but he does also get calls that are just unfair.
Derrick Fisher’s apparent “flagrant” foul in Game 5 was an absolutely absurd call and an example of pathetic refereeing. But let’s not discredit LeBron or his championship one bit—the man had a triple-double last night, led by example and has been fantastic throughout the playoffs.
Simply put, the Miami Heat played like champions last night, and OKC sure didn’t.
I give the Heat even more credit because I think the Thunder team that they just beat is a significantly better team than the Dallas Mavericks who beat the Heat in the finals last season. When you have a player like Mike Miller going 7-for-8 from the three-point line (one of the best sharp-shooter performances in NBA history), and Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers contributing as they did, this team simply wasn’t going to lose.
So will LeBron James be transformed from villain to hero? Will the man ever be loved?
I don’t think that transformation will be immediate now that LeBron has won. I think LeBron has silenced his critics, shown the world that he was right in departing Cleveland for Miami and proved that he’s matured a good deal. But ultimately, it’s easy to hate any prodigy who comes off with any degree of smugness.
Twenty years from now, LeBron James will be viewed very differently than he is today, but I think LeBron won’t be loved by the casual fan until the twilight of his career. At that point, people will begin to respect him for all of the championships he’ll win between now and then, as well as his contributions to the game as whole.
For now I know that I’ll continue to root against him, despite the fact that I know he’s a championship-caliber player and not the guy his critics have made him out to be.
As for the Thunder, all I have to say is this: Kevin Durant is 23, Russell Westbrook is 23 and James Harden is 22. These guys need to take a couple on the chin, as LeBron did, before they get theirs.
But rest assured they will get theirs—and I, for one, can’t wait to watch the Heat and Thunder go at it again.
Geoff Roberts is the Founder and Managing Editor of howiGit.com, a Boston sports blog.