While 2011-2012 might not have been LeBron James' best statistical season, or even one of basketball's best statistical seasons, few years have delivered so much relief.
After a humiliating, surprisingly disappointing 2011 NBA finals, LeBron returned to slowly validate everything rational basketball fans had come to believe about him over the years.
Trust me, this was more of an unlikely triumph than it sounds.
Many had closed the book on LeBron, taking the descriptive of "he hasn't won" to be the predictive of "he'll never win." Such notions were silly, but powerful. They framed how popular sports culture viewed almost any James game.
The only evidence considered was negative. If the Heat won, it was obviously because the game was trivial, easy pickings for these frontrunners. If they lost, it revealed their true selves as weak choke artists.
All it took to repudiate such thinking were thrilling playoff comebacks against the Pacers, Celtics and Thunder. No big deal, just triumph in three situations in which all seemed lost at some point. This pass to Wade began the championship arc.
This was probably the most precarious point of Miami's season, though Game 6 against Boston surely felt more ominous to fans. The importance of this game lay in whom they were missing. Chris Bosh was out for the series, leaving LeBron and a slew of below-replacement-level players to handle Roy Hibbert. James scored 40 points with 18 rebounds and nine assists to save his squad from a 3-1 deficit.
From there, Miami stumbled onto the wrong side of 3-2 against Boston. With everyone primed for a Heat collapse, James delivered one of the greatest games in NBA history—no hyperbole. Perhaps there have been greater performances, but not amid such doubt, hatred and ready mockery.
He hit 12 of his 13 (mostly difficult) shots en route to a 45-point romp. The Heat rarely looked fallible after that point. They trailed some in Game 7, then dropped the first one to OKC. But mostly, they appeared to be an inexorable machine, expertly driven by LeBron.
And now, to cap it all off, James has helped steer Team USA to a gold medal. He shot a blistering 60 percent in these Olympics (72 percent on two-pointers). He also dished out 5.6 assists in a scoring model that is quite stingy with the dimes. While we can argue over Team USA's best player, James certainly was the least replaceable.
Nobody in basketball claims his combined skill set—nobody in the history in the league. This was the year he proved as much, even to the reluctant. This was 2012, the year of LeBron. And there may be more years like this to come.