Being that I am a Miami Heat columnist here on Bleacher Report, it would seem fair that LeBron James would be the topic of discussion more times than not. But, after writing numerous slideshows and columns on the Miami Heat, I have received some pretty harsh backlash for giving King James and his team more credit than is apparently deserved.
Whether people are still sensitive over LeBron’s abrupt and ill-advised departure from Cleveland or simply hate him for his “not one, not two, not three” declaration, it’s apparent that the disdain for James hasn’t completely gone away.
But, like it or not, James became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1992 to win a NBA championship, NBA MVP, Finals MVP and Olympic gold medal in the same season. James not only posted one of the most well-rounded and extraordinary years in NBA history, but he reminded us that his one-of-a-kind athletic prowess amounts to more than just pure talent.
So, after garnering that type of historic success, the question is can LeBron James live up to the expectations, or will he fail to repeat last year’s achievements?
Two Ways to Look at it
Quite simply, there are two ways to look at LeBron this year.
You can view 2012 as the season of LeBron, where his ascension from elite player to Hall of Fame worthy came into fruition. You can respect that he matured as a basketball player, who developed all aspects of his game and took the necessary steps to become a NBA champion.
Or, you can take the route that James did what he was merely supposed to do. You can continue to bash him for his self-proclaimed “King” title and say that it was about time he won a ring. You could say that it took him surrounding himself with two perennial All-Stars before he finally got over the hump.
But, let’s just be realistic.
LeBron James is the best player in the National Basketball Association, and he’s the best by a large margin. But, to remain the best by a large margin, James would need to continue to separate himself from his peers by winning more titles and getting closer to all-time greats like MJ, Kobe and Magic.
So, which way will LeBron go? Will he live up to the expectations or crumble under the pressure?
After just one ring in nine seasons and multiple playoff failures before that, it would be easy to say LeBron is going to choke under the heavy expectations that have been placed on him.
But, the difference, this time around, is the emotional progress that James has made. After all the heat James took when he collapsed in the 2011 NBA Finals, James made a decision to come back head strong and get back to playing basketball for fun, instead of proving people wrong.
When faced with the pressure of a 2-1 deficit and an early playoff exit against the Pacers in the second round of last year's postseason, James responded by averaging 32.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, eight assists and two steals in three consecutive Heat wins to secure a birth in the East finals.
When faced with the stress of elimination, down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics, James responded with 38 points and 13.5 rebounds in two straight Miami wins to propel his team to the NBA Finals. It also has to be mentioned that James posted an unhuman 45 points, 15 boards and five assists in a do-or-die Game 6 on the road against the Celtics to save the Heat’s season.
Then, James averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists in the finals to secure his first ring and Finals MVP award. His stats aren’t just to showcase his absolute dominance, but to portray just how far he’s come when it matters most.
When Wade struggled and was hampered by a knee injury or when Bosh went down with a lower abdominal strain, who was there to pick the Heat up? It was unequivocally LeBron James.
And that’s not just a product of his improved game, but more so, the ample improvement in his head maturity.
Is That Enough?
So, do the staggering numbers and shiny new hardware mean LeBron will live up to the expectations?
And yes again, if you needed more clarification.
It’s not just the fact that LeBron’s head is right and that he has finally alleviated the pressure of getting that first championship.
It’s the fact that he’s fully embraced his post abilities. LeBron can dominate guys taller than him with his rare combination of size and speed. James averaged 12.2 points per game in the paint in 2012, the fourth highest among all players last season.
LeBron can back down opponents in the paint and display a full range of post moves, anywhere from a simple back-to-the-basket shot or his newly found skyhook. At 6’8” and 270 pounds, James is a physically imposing figure who can dominate both offensively and defensively.
If that doesn’t do it for you, you can look to the fact that he’s more hungry and motivated than ever to prove last year wasn’t just an aberration.
James has stated his intentions of being the best of all time, meaning that he is at least five championships away before he can come close to accomplishing that feat. If his goals have any merit, then James, will once again, do whatever it takes to repeat the success of last season. He will fight, scratch and claw to return to the top of the basketball mountain.
James is no longer allowing the media or outside world to get into his head. He has an unbreakable focus and confidence right now that is not only seen in his MVP-caliber game but in his demeanor. He is doing all the right things, and he is saying all the right things. His attitude and game are that of a confident veteran who knows where he's going and how he's going to do it.
Last, but not least, James realizes the shelf life of the Big Three era isn’t forever. There are potentially only two seasons remaining (including this year) of the Big Three era in Miami, meaning that James and company have to do whatever it takes to win right now.
With teams like Los Angeles, Oklahoma, Indiana and Boston all scratching at their heels, the Heat and James have a true sense of urgency.
That sense of urgency combined with the fact that James is entering the prime of his career will give the King no choice but to live up to the expectations.
Sure, it will be tough repeating last season’s haul of accomplishments, but all James has to do to match it is win it all again. He doesn’t need any MVP’s or gold medals—he needs a second ring.
Fortunately, James has the necessary greatness, skills, motivation, sense of urgency and surrounding talent to live up to those expectations.
So, sit back and watch James elevate his greatness to another level.