Miami Heat: 7 Reasons LeBron James Has Fully Repaired His Image
I've never truly understood this obsession with LeBron James by those who don't like him.
For the past two seasons, and still even now, there have been critics who have relentlessly come down on James. I'm not exactly sure why they do it, but the main reasons I've been told have either been that he's cocky, needed help to win or isn't a closer and shouldn't be talked about amongst the best players to play the game.
I have consistently covered LeBron since joining the Heat in 2010 and believe that some people are just stuck in old habits and can't change their mind. No matter what you say and no matter what James does, there's always a response that's not even worth arguing against. It's as if you're listening to a broken record when you hear critics speak of James and his failings.
You will never hear a three-time MVP, one-time champion and Finals MVP recipient, two-time All-Star game MVP, eight-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA First Team member and four-time All-Defensive First Team member criticized as much as LeBron James.
Perhaps we should allow his career to come to an end before we start speaking of how many titles James has won or how we should properly analyze his career.
Over the course of the past season, since the 2011 NBA Finals really, James has taken the necessary steps in order to start becoming as beloved when he was the player who ended up constantly disappointing late in the playoffs.
We take a look at the seven ways James has fully repaired his image.
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In an attempt to make LeBron James appear inferior, critics decided to point out the one piece of hardware that he was missing.
James had the MVP's and All-Star appearances, but it was widely believed his career was incomplete without a championship. As good a player as James was, it was expected of him to have a ring, even though it was difficult to do so on an inadequate Cleveland Cavaliers team. If he wanted to be known among the best, he had to win like the best.
The criticism only grew once James failed to win in his first year with the Miami Heat. There was even the ridiculous idea that LeBron wasn't ever going to win one. It's expected to hear that, however. The analysis on this league is nothing more than knee-jerk reactions, as analysts change their mind on a specific player based on their game-to-game performance.
Also, the media loves failure, especially if it was LeBron James being a part of it. James had one of the best all-around seasons in recent NBA history, yet all we could hear about was the constant chatter of him winning a championship. Basically, the 2012 MVP meant nothing to the critics nor did it mean much to LeBron, who would have traded it for a title.
Well, LeBron James is a champion these days.
After leading his Heat to a five-game series win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, James received Finals MVP and finally grasped the trophy that had eluded him for so long. He could care less about proving his critics wrong because he was too focused on proving something to himself.
A large majority of James' critics were people who wanted to see the three-time MVP win a ring. Now that he has one, he can be legitimately talked about amongst the league's greatest without someone bringing up talk of rings.
Of course, there are still plenty of people saying it's just one ring. Luckily for all our sanity, James still has a long, prosperous career ahead of him and will only continue to improve as he works on his all-around game and plays with the league's top team.
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For some reason, there was this idea of LeBron James being unable to close games.
Just because the guy didn't have any championships prior to June doesn't mean he can't close. It means his team didn't offer him the necessary support to advance. Don't forget that this is the same LeBron who averaged nearly 40 points per game against the Orlando Magic, a series where his Cleveland Cavaliers found a way to lose, despite the legendary effort.
There are plenty of significant instances of James closing out games. Scoring 28 of his team's final 29 points against the Detroit Pistons, hitting a miracle game-winner against Orlando or even finding a way to lead an awful Cavs team to the NBA Finals in 2007 are all instances of LeBron finding ways to will his team to victory.
Even last year's Eastern Conference playoffs were a firm example of James' ability to close out games. Time and time again, James led the Heat in their first-round series against 76ers" target="_blank">Philadelphia, had the final 10 points in the Heat's closeout game against Boston the series after and capped it off by leading an 18-3 run in the final minutes to lead his team against Chicago in the Conference Finals.
However, since we're so focused on his failures, you heard more about his dismal performance in the 2011 NBA Finals and his final series against Boston where he had a few below-average games.
The 2012 postseason featured James consistently closing out opponents. He did it via a 17-point fourth quarter against New York, 40 points, 19 boards and eight assists in dire straits against Indiana and a legendary 45-point performance against Boston to help avoid a series loss.
He persisted in the NBA Finals, hitting the biggest shot of his career on one leg in a Game 4 victory that essentially helped clinch the series. He also had a huge shot in Game 2 that helped the Heat nurse a close lead following a frantic Thunder comeback.
No Negative Press
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If there's one thing you can knock on LeBron James, it's his undeniable ability to put his foot in his mouth.
In his seven years with Cleveland, James was constantly creating soundbites for the media to run with.
It was as if James didn't think about what he was saying before he spoke. LeBron would constantly make quotes that would either put him higher than others or just plain outlandish ideas that could only make you shake your head. Even in Miami this persisted, as he was caught making fun of Dirk Nowitzki's illness following a game.
James must have hired someone in public relations because he was relatively quiet throughout the Heat's postseason run. Even after his Heat won the championship, James strayed away from a few loaded questions that were begging him to make a regrettable comment. Reporters from all over were asking what James wanted to say to his critics now that he had won.
Instead of going on an 'I told you so' rampage, James laid low and avoided the questions that would spoil his celebration and possibly hurt his image. He didn't give any statements worth quoting and he has mostly stayed out of the media spotlight outside of a few interviews with the likes of David Letterman, the View and Oprah.
In each interview, James controlled what he said and didn't fall for the bait each interviewer presented for him.
In fact, when was the last time you heard about James following the NBA Finals? Not only are we not hearing from him because he's no longer a failure, in the media's eyes at least, but also because he's not giving any statements that could stir up some controversy.
Leading His Country
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One large criticism of James has been the fact that he left Cleveland to join a loaded Miami Heat team.
It makes sense that we should criticize him even more now that he's on an even more loaded United States basketball team, right? Am I doing this right?
The Olympics is a glorious time for everyone across the world. We get to see the world's greatest athletes all come to one city to showcase the talents they've worked years for with the hopes of bringing a gold medal to a proud nation. For Americans, there has been nothing more thrilling than watching the United States basketball team do what it does best.
So far, so good for James and the Americans. Although the games have yet to start, they have been putting on clinics in five exhibition games leading up to the beginning of the Summer Olympics. Wins over Dominican Republic, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Argentina and a 22-point victory over 2008 runner-up Spain has given us plenty of reason to believe why the Americans should repeat as gold medal recipients.
If there is going to be anyone to lead the team, it'll be LeBron James. His ability to do it all on the floor, from scoring to passing, as well as his ability to rebound and play multiple positions, is going to bode extremely well for an undersized American team that's going to need all the speed and strength it can get.
With James leading the way to a highly-possible American gold medal, it should only get fans to get back on his good side with the hope that he can help lead the stacked squad.
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By the end of the Miami Heat's postseason run, there became a substantial amount of NBA fans who began rooting for James in hopes that he would finally achieve victory.
We can only take so much talk of failing and so much scrutiny before we reach a point where we have to say, 'Maybe we should lay off and just appreciate LeBron James' game.'
That's exactly what happened following the Heat's Game 6. For years, a large criticism of James was this idea that he quit on his Cleveland Cavaliers in his final series with the team against the Boston Celtics. Instead of citing his quality performances, there will be more emphasis put on an awful Game 5 where he only had three field goals, which was followed up with another loss to end the series.
Even after the 2011 NBA Finals, it was believed that James may have actually quit on his team.
There were two pristine opportunities for James to buy into these allegations. The first opportunity came in Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers, which followed up a stinker of a Game 3 where his Heat lost by nearly 20. Rather than buying into this idea of quitting, James decided to post up 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists to tie the series at two games apiece.
A few weeks later, the Heat were in dire straits facing a 3-2 lead and heading into TD Garden, an arena where they had lost 15 of their previous 16 games. With Chris Bosh still ailing and Dwyane Wade having a tough series, it all fell upon the shoulders of LeBron James once again. This time around, however, James made perfectly sure he wasn't going to get blamed for his team losing.
In a situation similar to what James faced in 2010 against Boston, LeBron left his mark in NBA lore to the tune of 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a 98-79 victory. James would lead the Heat with 32 points in Game 7.
That's the kind of resilience and never-quit attitude that should be lauded over for years to come. Facing two deficits and with the third best player on the team either hurt or out entirely, LeBron James took over and led his team back from the brink of disaster with two stat lines that nobody had seen since the 1960's.
Even against the Oklahoma City Thunder, James proved to be resilient by leading his team to four consecutive wins, rendering the likes of Jim Rome and Skip Bayless as nothing more than complete blowhards.
If you can't respect that, your whole perspective is whack.
Smarter All-Around Player
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One of the best things to happen to LeBron James' career was the fact that he left the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If he doesn't leave Cleveland, he's not winning a title in the near future. Face it, that team wasn't built to win a title. It was solely made for regular season victories. Having one player do everything can work from game-to-game in the regular season, but not over a playoff series where teams can make adjustments and find ways to restrict your advantages.
The Cavs only had LeBron to rely on, thus causing the team to constantly lose because it actually takes more than one player to win an NBA title. Even the Miami Heat couldn't win in 2011 and they had James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, which just goes to show how difficult it is to win in this league. As that Heat team showed, it takes far more than talent to win a title.
Following the loss, James sought out help from Hakeem Olajuwon as a means to improve his post-game. The Dallas Mavericks had exploited James lack of a post-game throughout the 2011 NBA Finals and it led to him either taking forced jumpers along the perimeter or throwing a bad attempt with his back to the basket. Because the Mavericks exploited a weakness, James went to strengthen it.
And strengthen it he did. The Heat are NBA champions because James now has a solid post-game. It could still use some significant work—something that James plans on doing this summer—but it got the job done against Oklahoma City as he used his influence to constantly pass out of double-teams.
In fact, of the 14 three-pointers the Heat hit in Game 5 against the Thunder, nine of those were assisted by James because he was drawing double-teams and kicking out to open shooters.
It's a true testament to how much James has improved as a player. He has made an unbelievable amount of sacrifices and adjustments since joining the Heat, including learning how to play off the ball, how to play with legitimate All-Stars and, most importantly, developing the post-game that stretches the floor and constantly has James in prime position to score near the basket.
He Was Right
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The greatest criticism of James over the course of his prestigious nine-year career has been his move to the Miami Heat.
For some reason, there were a large amount of NBA fans who thought James should have stayed on an underachieving Cleveland Cavaliers team instead of utilizing his rights as a free agent to join the team that was ready to win championships.
LeBron gave Cleveland seven years to bring him a supporting cast capable of leading him to a title. The best they got him was Mo Williams, an over-the-hill Antawn Jamison and a Shaquille O'Neal who was two years away from retirement. The organization didn't exactly get in the good graces of James with constant disappointment in the playoffs followed up by stagnant offseasons.
As a result, James teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It wasn't as easy as many thought it would be, but the three were good enough of a core to lead the Miami Heat to back-to-back Eastern Conference titles and an NBA championship.
Even those three needed help, however, as Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers all proved useful in the postseason.
The main point I'm trying to make is the fact that James was right about his decision. As much as analysts and fans criticize the decision he made, it was absolutely the right one to make because it has led to more success than James ever saw, and probably ever would see, in Cleveland. LeBron joined the team that wanted to win and it has paid off with his first piece of the hardware that he had coveted for so long.
Can we hate on a man for making a decision that he thinks would benefit his career? Sure, but when he's reaping the benefits by winning and proving critics wrong, then maybe we should take a step back and recognize that LeBron was actually right.