LeBron James finally got the proverbial monkey off his back, and it's looking more and more like his pledge to bring multiple titles to the Miami Heat, while perhaps a bit exaggerated, may not have been that far off-base after all.
The Heat demolished the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 on Thursday night to clinch the 2012 NBA Finals, downing the Thunder in five games. James, as he has been throughout the postseason, was absolutely dominant in the win, posting a triple-double en route to being named the NBA Finals MVP.
James' outstanding showing in the playoffs and first championship should go a long way toward dispelling the notion that the 27-year-old forward is a "choke artist" who fades in big games. As James told the Associated Press (via SI), the feeling of being a champion has been a long time coming.
I'm happy now that eight years later, nine years later since I've been drafted, that I can finally say that I'm a champion, and I did it the right way. I didn't shortcut anything. You know, I put a lot of hard work and dedication in it, and hard work pays off. It's a great moment for myself.
It's a feeling that James may become accustomed to over the next several seasons, as the Heat appear poised to become the NBA's next dynasty.
As fantastic a player as James is, he's not the only factor that would seem to set the stage for Miami to take over "The Association."
Of the Heat's "Big Three" of James, guard Dwyane Wade, and forward Chris Bosh, only Wade is over the age of 30, and that's by a matter of months. Unless something unforeseen happens, the trio should remain together and capable of playing at a high level for at least a few more seasons, affording the Heat the sort of nucleus that most NBA teams would kill for.
Ask the Charlotte Bobcats...they'd probably do it for any of the trio.
Additionally, the Eastern Conference of the NBA isn't exactly loaded. Yes, the Chicago Bulls are a talented team capable of challenging the Heat when they're at 100 percent. But after the devastating knee injury suffered by guard Derrick Rose, it may be a while before we see the Bulls at full strength again. We certainly won't next year.
After that, the bottom falls out. The Boston Celtics' average age is enough to get the team 10 percent off at Denny's, and the rest of the conference consists of also-rans, cupcakes and the New York Knicks, who put the "fun" in dysfunctional.
Granted, there are a number of teams in the Western Conference capable of giving the Heat trouble in the NBA Finals, but each of those teams also has problems and question marks of its own.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, given their talented young core of forward Kevin Durant and guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden, would seem to be the most serious threat. However, in case you weren't paying attention, the Heat just wiped the floor with the Thunder. And with both Harden and Westbrook set for big paydays over the next couple of years, it's not known whether Oklahoma City will have the resources or willingness to keep that core intact.
The San Antonio Spurs, much like the Celtics, have gotten old, as has superstar guard Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and forward Dirk Nowitski of the Dallas Mavericks. Nowitzki is 34, the same age Bryant will turn this fall. While both players still have some basketball left in them, all three of these clubs appear headed in the opposite direction of the rising Heat.
It also doesn't help these Western Conference teams that the West is such a grind in the regular season. By comparison, the East appears to be little more than a tune-up for Miami.
The Los Angeles Clippers have a fantastic young duo with forward Blake Griffin and guard Chris Paul, but they're the Clippers. The karmic stain of decades of futility and being owned by an alleged racist (via ESPN) who supposedly consults "prostitutes" for basketball decisions (h/t AOL) is an awful lot of bad mojo for any team to overcome, especially one that hasn't won anything, ever.
Sure, any of these teams could make improvements to their rosters. The problem is, so could the Heat, and right now there isn't a more appealing destination for a veteran player willing to sacrifice coinage for a shot at a ring than Miami.
As good as the Heat are now, imagine them with Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash running the floor next year. That could easily happen, as Nash himself told Dan Patrick via ESPN earlier this year that he would "listen" if the Heat came calling and "loved what they were doing" in Miami.
That was before the Heat rolled to a championship. What, he's going to be less interested now?
Will LeBron James win six NBA championships like Michael Jordan or even five like Bryant? That's a tall order. Wade may actually have the better shot at catching one of those two greats. Even though he's older, he also has a head start on James in the jewelry department.
On the other hand, James is in the prime of his career, so it's conceivable that when all's said and done he'll have a fistful of rings.
As things stand now, the Heat are the class of the NBA, and that doesn't look likely to change any time soon.