When you're an all-time great player, individual accomplishments don't do much for your legacy. Sure, everybody may love Steve Nash, championships be damned, but for most of those in the elite-of-the-elite class, it's all about the hardware.
Nobody seems to care much, for instance, that Kobe Bryant has only won one MVP award. Even fewer people pay much attention to the fact that Karl Malone has two MVP trophies. But almost every close follower of the league can tell you, in one second flat, how many titles each guy has won: five and zero.
It's no different with LeBron.
Two years ago, after he fell short of winning a ring in his first season with the Miami Heat, nobody cared about his MVPs, his scoring averages, his triple-doubles or the otherwise gaudy statistics he put up every night.
He was still only a non-champion. He may as well have been Vince Carter. And worse, he was a choker who couldn't come up big when it matters most. "Shrink from the moment" was a phrase attributed to him time and time again.
He didn't have "it."
But oh what a difference a ring and a few iconic performances make.
After winning the title last season, LeBron has fully claimed the rarefied airspace his talents always suggested he should occupy.
Now, his whole legacy is seen through a different lens.
Nobody will ever forget his baffling, unassertive Game 5 against the Boston Celtics in 2010, which was skewered by Bill Simmons of ESPN, among others. And some will never forgive his similarly strange willingness to hang back and watch his teammates miss shots as the Miami Heat lost in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks one year later.
But the whole tone is different now.
Now that he is a champion, his accomplishments are heralded more than his failures are criticized. His warpath through the East playoffs in 2011, particularly as he lay waste to the Chicago Bulls in the conference finals before meeting the Mavericks, has become a valid accomplishment.
Just winning one title made most of the negative talk about LeBron James the basketball player disappear.
His Game 6 for the ages against the Boston Celtics last year (45 points, 15 rebounds, five assists) has taken its place among the best postseason exploits in league history. It joins his 48-point, double-overtime win against the Detroit Pistons, when he scored his team's final 25 points, including a game-winning layup, in what was the greatest individual single-game performances I've ever watched.
His play just last night, in a Game 5 win over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals, was nearly every bit as good. At least for one quarter. He scored or assisted on 25 of his team's 30 third-quarter points as the Heat vanquished the Pacers for the night, and probably the season.
A lot of people still don't like LeBron James.
But there aren't any reputable sportswriters anymore who don't respect him. Who don't respect his game.
This is no longer a big three.
Wade and Bosh, as talented and productive as they can be at times, are just tourists. They are just like the rest of us, along for the ride on the LeBron James Extravaganza Thrill Ride Experience.
As Dwyane rose from relative obscurity to become one of world's best players, locals gave Dade County, where Miami resides, the nickname "Wade County."
LeBron James has annexed Wade County. The Heat are his team, and not even Wade would question that anymore. He can't, because there is not an active player alive who can do the things James does—and there probably aren't any dead or retired either.
He's a one of one.
Of course, LeBron's current ascendance into his own universe will not be remembered as fondly if he doesn't add more jewelry to his collection. That's just how this works.
James has reached such a peak that, if Miami is to falter, the story may end up being that his supporting cast wasn't good enough. It may follow the early Cleveland years' narrative, before the world turned on him and his ability to come through in the clutch.
If Dwyane Wade continues to look like a Cavs-era Larry Hughes while the Heat lose to the San Antonio Spurs, or Indiana Pacers, LeBron may be let off the hook.
But the effect if they do win a second title?
It will be much larger. Larger than it was for Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal winning title number two. Larger than Michael Jordan winning his second.
All remaining shreds of doubt about LeBron being a top-10, and probably top-five, player of all time will cease. It will earn him undisputed entry into that club. The All Timers. The Best. The Pantheon.
The Legends Who Give Other Legends Goosebumps.
It's unbelievable what one ring has already done for LeBron James.
Imagine what a second one can?
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