When LeBron James was drafted with the number one overall pick on June 26, 2003, the world wasn’t sure how this kid coming straight out of high school would fare against professional athletes. When he took the court for the first time, we immediately knew that he was something special. After winning the Rookie Of The Year award by averaging 20.9 PPG, 5.9 APG and 5.5 RPG, the world was put on his back before he was able to legally drink.
Fast forward a few years. He’s the face of the league. He’s putting up ridiculous numbers while leading a small-market franchise to the top of the Eastern Conference for years. Even though he kept bringing the Cleveland Cavaliers to the playoffs, it wasn’t enough, as they just couldn’t get to the next level.
Alas, in 2007, he brings the Cavs to the finals against one of the greatest coaches of all-time, Gregg Popovich, and his San Antonio Spurs. Due to a poor supporting cast, the Cavs were clearly overmatched against Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, getting swept in the finals.
Despite finishing with the best record in the East during the ’08-09 and ’09-10 seasons, it still wasn’t enough, as they were bounced before even reaching the finals. When free agency came, he took his talents to South Beach, announcing his decision during an hour-long tv special. He got fed up with losing in Cleveland so he went to a place where he can win that elusive title, pairing up with perennial all-stars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
They were easily the favorites to win the championship due to their new three-headed monster. While the Heat wound up advancing to the finals, they were shocked by the Dallas Mavericks, losing the series four games to two. At this point, it seemed like everyone was rooting for him to fail, to which he arrogantly responded, “At the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today.”
But this year, LeBron was going to have none of it. Quite frankly, he was sick of losing. So James emerged as the leader of the club, taking Wade’s spot as the head honcho of Miami. In addition to his third MVP award and putting up gargantuan numbers, LeBron played like a man possessed in the playoffs.
A lot of NBA fans, including myself, thought the Oklahoma City Thunder would beat the Heat in the finals. They had a deeper team than Miami and were coming off an impressive comeback against the Spurs. But LeBron went on an absolute tear and carried the Heat while getting solid play from not only Wade and Bosh, but from their bench as well. It was a total team effort.
OKC lost in the finals because they got absolutely nothing from players not named Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant. James Harden was a ghost throughout this series with the exception of the first half of game two and in garbage time of game five, and nobody else picked up the slack. If you take away those two performances by Harden, do you know how many other times a Thunder player scored more than 10 points in a game? That would be one—Derek Fisher with 11 in the blowout that was game five. That’s it.
The Heat, on the other hand, won as a team, as Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller all shined at some point throughout the series—Battier was, of course, draining threes throughout the duration of the finals. It was essentially the Heat verses Westbrook and Durant. I don’t care if you have Jordan and Pippen on your team, you still have to get play from guys like Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, etc.
So now LeBron has a championship under his belt. One of many, I presume. The comparisons to Jordan are flying around more than ever, such as “How many rings will he have to win in order to be at MJ’s level?”
Let’s just take a step back, folks—you can’t keep comparing a 27-year-old to the greatest player of all-time. He is blossoming into the best, most dominant athlete in the history of the sport and can both play and guard any position on the floor. He can do it all. And just as a fun fact, Jordan was 28 when he won his first title.
While I wouldn’t consider myself a LeBron fan by any means, how can you not appreciate someone so good at what he does? Everyone hates him for multiple reasons—whether it was The Decision, his post-game rant after losing to Dallas, him teaming up with all-stars, etc.—but he has grown into not only a phenomenal player, but a leader and mentor as well. You know what my favorite moment of this entire series was? LeBron pulling Mario Chalmers to the side in the third quarter of game five and despite having a huge lead, telling Chalmers to knock off the shit, stop waving to the fans, and continue to play until the clock strikes 0:00. James gets it.
So LeBron haters, keep hatin’. Knock him for The Decision, because announcing where you’re going to play next season as a young man is far worse than bringing guns into the locker room, or going into the stands and punching fans in the face. Appreciate “King James” because when it’s all said and done, you should be happy that you’re watching one of the greatest ever.