For LeBron James to live up to his status as "The King," the Miami Heat have to win the NBA Championship now. It will not be easy, as the competition in Eastern Conference is at its peak. The Boston Celtics might be done, but the New York Knicks made vast improvements and the Chicago Bulls got the shooting guard they coveted.
I will admit, I drank the Kool-Aid when LeBron James was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. When he scored 25 straight points in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, I thought it was over. Michael Jordan had found his rival as the greatest of all time. Of course, the Cavs got swept by the San Antonio Spurs, but that did not matter. It was only the beginning, and LeBron was far ahead of schedule.
When LeBron's top-seeded Cavs got upset by the Orlando Magic in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals, I was still a believer. The 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists he averaged in a six-game loss was the best basketball I had ever seen in a losing effort. I hate to borrow James' own excuse, but his teammates disappeared in that series. MJ himself could not have saved them.
When I first started to doubt James' dominance was, as Bill Simmons coined it, LeBrondown, Part One when he disappeared against the Celtics. LeBron gave up on his team. Worst of all, he gave up on winning, something Jordan could never even think of doing. It was just not in his genetic make-up.
Last season, I thought LeBron had finally turned the corner against the Chicago Bulls. He knew what he wanted to be, and I knew why he chose the Miami Heat. He was Scottie Pippen 2.0.
You need me to clean the glass? I got that (Games 2 and 5). You need me to light it up? No problem (Games 2, 4 and 5). You need me to shut down the league's MVP? Done (the majority of the series).
Will LeBron James ever rival Michael Jordan?
Finally, he has an identity! This is it, the Heat are going to win the NBA Championship and start their dynasty a year before I thought. Then LeBrondown, Part Two happened, and James spent the majority of the finals looking disinterested and wandering around the perimeter.
Now, it all comes down to this season. LeBron has faced adversity. He supposedly has his head clear and is done trying to be "The Villain" character that Nike created for him. He spent the season working on his post moves with Hakeem Olajuwon, by far the most important decision (pardon the pun) of his career.
The great ones have had a go-to move. Jordan and Kobe Bryant had and have a bevy of mid-range moves and jumpers. Larry Bird could kill you as soon as he hit half court. Magic Johnson had the baby hook, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the sky hook.
To this point in his career, everyone in the building knows LeBron will do one of two things with the ball in his hands: drive to the basket or shoot a fallaway three-pointer. If LeBron truly masters his craft in the post, he will be the LeBron James we all thought he would be coming out of high school.
It has to happen this season. Sure, the Heat will continue to be a championship threat every year LeBron and Wade are together. I expect him to win a ring or two, regardless of what happens this season, but to be in "The Greatest" argument, he needs at least three rings. If LeBron does not make the choice of who he needs to be on the basketball court, he will be closer to Wilt Chamberlain than Jordan.
Chamberlain was arguably the most gifted physical specimen to step on a basketball court. He never maximized those gifts because he did not know what he wanted, who he needed to be when "the moment" came. He did win two rings later in his career, but is frequently left in the second tier in the discussion of greatest players in NBA history. LeBron is in danger of falling into that category.
As a sports fan, part of me roots for the greatest players to be great, no matter what the rest of me may think about said player's personality. That part of me hated watching LeBron wander around the court in the NBA Finals last season.
It is now year nine of the LeBron James Experience. Eight years, zero rings. To quote your tweet from the NBA Finals, to prove you are truly The King of the NBA, it is "now or never," LeBron. Let the games begin.