Why 2012 Will Forever Be Remembered as the Year of LeBron James
The late, great Frank Sinatra knew a thing or two about very good years. But even the Chairman of the Board might've run short of superlatives trying to qualify the spectacular success that LeBron James enjoyed when he was 27.
James won't have to wait until his NBA playing days are done or his likeness is enshrined in Springfield to appreciate that 2012 was the defining year in what may well go down as one of the greatest careers in basketball history.
In the year the Mayan calendar ended, and it was predicted the world as we knew it would come to an end, LeBron established a new paradigm in domination for himself, as much as for his sport of choice. He registered an all-around performance (particularly in the playoffs), the likes of which had rarely, if ever, been seen before. In the 15 tilts between Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Indiana Pacers and the Game 5 clincher (in which he tallied a triple-double) opposite the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals, James averaged 31.7 points on 51.5 percent shooting, with 10.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.5 steals in 44.5 minutes per game.
Astounding numbers all, to say the least.
He handled and passed like a point guard, launched three-pointers like a shooting guard, flew through the air like a small forward, posted up like a power forward and protected the paint like a center. He'd long been one of the league's most efficient scorers, but established himself, arguably, as the best defender in basketball, as well.
LeBron became the NBA's Everyman, not in that he was at all "average," but rather in the way he demonstrated a once-in-a-generation ability to do every man's job. James played the way all the experts and pundits anticipated he eventually would when the Cleveland Cavaliers took him with the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft. He went from being "just" a man-child with extraordinary physical potential, but ordinary mental limits in crunch time, to a man among men, a renaissance man in a sport full of specialists.
Some of the credit for that quantum leap belongs to Erik Spoelstra and Mike Krzyzewski, his coaches with the Miami Heat and USA Basketball, respectively. Both recognized LeBron's unique ability to demolish the opposition from nearly any spot on the floor in any number of ways on one end, and to body up against players of all shapes, sizes and skill sets on the other.
The former unleashed him in May and June on the way to the first NBA title of his already illustrious career. The latter picked up on the transformation and put it to good use for Team USA over the summer. James terrorized the international field every which way during an undefeated run through the 2012 London Olympics to his second gold medal.
Throw in LeBron's third league MVP in four years and his first Finals MVP, and the last of the preps-to-pros prodigies wound up with a sweep of awards that only Michael Jordan in 1992 could've ever imagined.
Apparently, that Jordan fellow was pretty good—almost as good as LeBron, who added selections as an All-Star, a first-team All-NBA and All-Defensive performer and the Sports Illustrated "Sportsman of the Year" to his resume therein.
All kidding aside, LeBron turned out to be much more than "just" a force of nature on the court. He also showed himself to be an important and thoughtful voice off of it. James helped to organize a team photograph of the behooded Heat in support of Trayvon Martin, the Floridian teenager who was gunned down while wearing a hoodie, presumably because he looked menacing to the shooter.
It was the sort of social and political statement that elite athletes of LeBron's rare ilk often avoid, particularly in this day and age of social media, sports saturation and instant (and often explosive) opinions. But James, as image-conscious as any sportsman on the planet, put himself out there anyway.
In doing so, LeBron did what legendary athletes so often seem unwilling or unable to do—he made himself relatable to a larger audience. His response to Trayvon's death made a man known for superhuman feats and immortal moments seem, well, human and mortal.
In a good way, of course.
That act turned out to be the best non-basketball entry into an oeuvre that's LeBron's and LeBron's alone in sports. He declared quite emphatically that he could be the best player of his generation without the single-minded sociopathy of a Michael Jordan or a Kobe Bryant. He proved that competitive greatness doesn't necessitate the invocation of the sort of anger, spite and retribution that came to define so many of his forebears.
James rose above the negativity without being entirely aloof. He made a point of letting go of the hatred, of ceasing his embrace of the role of villain for which he'd been pegged and getting back to the basics of playing and enjoying the game.
As a result, LeBron didn't "just" stock his trophy case with every award and accolade known to man. More importantly, he redefined the pinnacle of success in his sport. He raised the bar seemingly beyond his own reach and shot right past it anyway. He turned haters into fans and doubters into believers.
At long last, LeBron went from being The Chosen One to just The One. He made (some) amends with the city of Cleveland without succumbing to regret or apologizing for his partnership with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It was a long and arduous process, one that will likely persist until his playing days are done.
But, in 2012, James made more headway in that regard than ever before. He shattered long-standing perceptions to establish a new, more complete reality.
And was rewarded rather handsomely for it. Even Ol' Blue Eyes would be compelled to tip his cap.
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