Had James' Heatles fell to the Indiana Pacers, his current stint in Miami ran the risk of being categorized as a mistake. Two finals appearances and one title in three years wouldn't have been enough to justify his decision to abandon the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Four victories away from his second NBA championship and making his third finals appearance in as many years, that pressure continues to be applied.
In truth, it's unfair. No team in the league and no player in the Association is held to that standard. No matter what happens against the Spurs, James has his one ring. The one he didn't win–but probably would've eventually won—in Cleveland. He'll still have a championship.
But he will have failed to build a dynasty.
The potential error in James' decision-making process—aside from the presentation—wasn't the outcome itself. It was what his self-imposed resolution represented.
When James joined forces with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, it was under the pretense that they wouldn't win just one title. Or two. Or three. As many as eight or more, that's what James himself projected.
Riding what had then been an insatiable ego, James' proclamation is no longer considered a devout forecast, so much as it was a barometer. Eight-plus championships—that's what he and his new bandmates were capable of winning.
Only the problem is, the context of this assembly can't be contorted the way his words can. That may not have been a concrete promise. His mere presence in South Beach was.
Maimi's Big Three wasn't amassed to win one championship. Bosh, James and Wade didn't take (slight) pay cuts to make three consecutive finals. They didn't approach their first season together with an entitled air of superiority because they thought that quite possibly, maybe, if they were lucky, they would win a championship.
This trio existed to build a dynasty. Not "maybe," or "quite possibly" or "if they were lucky." They would build a dynasty. That's why they were together. That's why they're still together.
Such extravagance is still well within the realm of the Heat's possibilities. James can still have his dynasty, the one he left Cleveland to found, whether he admits it or not.
Two championships, even though they'll have come consecutively, won't mean the Heat have successfully built a dynasty. But it will mean they have preserved they're chances of creating one, of James headlining one. Actualizing their skyscraping ambitions will have never seemed closer.
These Spurs, the ones the Heat are facing, are a dynasty. Three championships in the last decade, going for a fourth in the last 11 years, attempting to win a fifth since Tim Duncan joined the league in 1999—that's a dynasty. It's the only existing one in the NBA. And it's one that came at James' expense.
San Antonio's third championship of the Big Three era came against James' Cavs. The Spurs absolutely flogged Cleveland, claiming their third ring with four successive victories, like the Cavs were some sort of joke.
James hasn't forgotten that. He remembers the Spurs celebrating on his floor, at his expense.
The Chosen One shot just 35.6 percent from the field that series. San Antonio forced him to take jump shots and they weren't falling. There was nothing he could do.
That was 2007, this is 2013. Times have changed. James isn't some 22-year-old kid about to fail in the face of everything he's ever dreamed of.
"I'm a better player (than 2007) and you can't dare me to do anything I don't want to do," James said during his media availability leading up to Game 1.
This isn't about him making three pointers anymore. We know he can do that. He drilled over 40 percent of his treys during the regular season. It's not about him winning a title either. We know he can do that too.
This is about him spitting in the face of 2007, which was predictably one of the reasons he eventually fled Cleveland in three years time.
No one is daring James to successfully create a dynasty. He dared himself. The minute he set foot in Miami, as a member of what was allegedly the most feared Big Three the league would ever see, he challenged himself.
He dared himself to be better, to be greater. To get what the Spurs have.
Losing to San Antonio (again) strips him of the right to champion that self-imposed challenge. It gives the Spurs even more of what he's supposed to have. And it taints James' future, wherever it might take him.
Questions regarding Wade's knee and age aren't going anywhere. Bosh's sudden penchant for fading when it matters most isn't going to be forgotten. A second finals loss by this current regime will be remembered, pitting the odds against the Heat and their lofty goals, against James and his towering aspirations.
Before James goes gallivanting off into the unknown that will be the summer of 2014 though, he has the opportunity to pilot his own destiny, to put himself within reach of what his decision promised to yield nearly three years ago.
How? By beating San Antonio at their own game.
The Spurs are who the Heat are trying to be. Duncan is the player James is trying to emulate. They stand for everything he wants to be, for everything he needs to be.
Now they're what's standing in front of him.
"I've lost enough," he said. "I don't need anymore fuel from losing."
He can't lose anymore period. Not to the Spurs or any other team that impedes him later. His purpose in Miami depends on it.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!