Finally, after years of being considered the best never to win one of the ultimate prizes, it happened on a court in front of thousands of fans and millions from around the world watching on TV. The pressure is officially off and now, there's no holding back.
So a belated congratulations, LeBron James: You deserve it, your first NBA Championship. Or, to refer to more recent triumphs, congratulations, Andy Murray, on your U.S. Open tennis victory on Monday night.
Their paths to career-defining victories are similar, even though the sports of choice are quite different. (Well, there is a ball, a court and a net with the net being a good thing in one sport and bad in the other.)
Before James or Murray ever earned a penny as a professional athlete, they were pegged for future greatness. James famously made the cover of Sports Illustrated while still in high school and Murray won the U.S. Open junior tournament quite handily.
And as professionals, their successes were many: Murray, up until this past U.S. Open, had made four prior Grand Slam finals and had gotten as high as No. 2 in the world, while James was a consistent All-Star, scoring champion and league-wide MVP.
But there was always that knock against them: Why couldn't they win the big one?
In some instances, it's a matter of harnessing all of that God-given talent. And while that may have been one of the primary factors, there's no denying the intense pressure and scrutiny both Murray and James faced. Murray, for one, had history and the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders.
Intense scrutiny also plays a part: James' play in the fourth quarter of playoff games has been one of the hottest topics of discussion during any course of the NBA season.
Making subtle shifts in their games saw huge differences for the two. James, humbled by his defeat in the NBA Finals the prior year, worked to improve his skill set while Murray brought in someone on his team who once had to deal with questions regarding his shortcomings in the big events, tennis Hall-of-Famer Ivan Lendl. Those results paid dividends nearly immediately for both athletes and here they are now, with the proverbial monkeys off their backs.
And now that the first time is out of the way, the NBA and ATP landscapes promise to look a lot different over the next few years.
Look how relaxed James played at the Summer Olympics this year. Maintaining that level of play shouldn't be an issue now that he can just step on the court and let talent and a pure joy for the game carry him.
As for Murray, while it may not look like a joy out there sometimes, there's no denying his ability. He's played his three chief rivals — Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal — nearly even outside of the Grand Slams over the years. Now that he can step on the court with them and be announced as a major champion, too, that mental hurdle is erased.
It's rare to see athletes so highly touted both finally achieve their career moments within months of each other. It was a long journey by some accounts, but now that the first big step is out of the way, expect more championships and cementing of legacies to be done in the years ahead.
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