LeBron Answers His Critics
June 11, 2012
Stepping onto the biggest stage of his professional career, 27-year-old LeBron James answered all his critics in a do-or-die Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals at Boston’s TD Garden. LeBron dominated the game from start to finish denying the playoff-experienced, battle-tested Boston Celtics 98-79. All the basketball pundits counted the Miami Heat out, predicting Boston would close out the Heat and join the Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA Finals Tuesday, June 12. What makes the LeBron story so compelling are the unfulfilled expectations starting when he broke into the League directly from high school in 2003 as the nation’s No. 1 draft pick with the Cleveland Cavaliers. James spent seven successful seasons with Cleveland, winning two most valuable player awards but not winning an NBA championship. When his free agency option opened up in 2010, James bailed out of Cleveland and headed to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat.
James’ July 12, 2010 hour-long ESPN special called “The Decision” where he announced his decision to leave Cleveland, caused an uproar still dogging him today, with many fans and players viewing him as a traitor, despite spending seven long seasons in Cleveland. “I want to be able to win championships,” James told a worldwide audience. “And I feel I can compete down there,” leaving Cleveland primarily because he felt team owner Dan Gilbert couldn’t build him a championship team. LeBron’s decision to join NBA champion shooting guard Dwyane Wade in Miami was a major transition for the six-time NBA all-star. Former Los Angeles Lakers’ Coach and Miami Heat President Pat Riley wooed James, hoping to turn him into the next Magic Johnson, known as one of the NBA’s best playmakers. Joining Wade’s team threw James out of his natural rhythm.
Dominating Game 6 last night in Boston was no fluke. Finally, after all of Riley’s attempts to have James fit in as Wade’s facilitator, the Miami Heat became James’ team. “We just gave him the ball and got out of the way,” said Wade in his post-game media interview. “Locked in from the beginning of the game like I’ve never seen him before,” forgetting that he saw James’ magic routinely in Cleveland before Riley tried to remake James to facilitate Wade’s prodigious scoring talents. Now 30, with gimpy knees, Wade has finally deferred to “The King,” to do whatever it takes to win Game 7 and return to the NBA finals. Whether it was Wade’s ego or Riley’s attempt to spare Wade the indignity of changing leaders in Miami, they took LeBron out of his natural game as the NBA’s premier offensive weapon. His dominating performance in Boston didn’t surprise Celtics’ Coach Doc Rivers.
LeBron gave some keen insights into his performance that, on the one hand, everyone expects, while, on the other hand, blame him when he falls short. Riley’s re-education of James didn’t work, trying to turn James into the next Magic Johnson. “I didn’t use any motivation,” James said, rejecting reporters’ questions of whether or not he had a chip on his shoulder. “I just went to my habits. I went to what I built over the course of the season, over the course of the years. I wasn’t going to feel sorry for myself. . . I don’t need extra motivation. I know how big these games are,” realizing that he just rediscovered his true self. James found his old Cleveland playing role—a one man wrecking crew that requires his teammates to feed him the ball and let him perform his magic. Now that Wade’s on the same page of letting LeBron be LeBron, there’s no limit to what the Heat can do.
Handicapping Saturday’s Game 7, the pundits are busy giving Boston the edge for all their close-game playoff experience. Now that James has found himself for the first time in Miami, it’s doubtful that even Boston’s best defensive effort can stop James and the Heat on their own home floor. Game 5’s June 5 disappointing home-court loss to Boston 94-90 isn’t likely to repeat itself. While Boston Coach Doc Rivers keeps a stiff upper lip, he has no real answer for an awakened sleeping giant. “I hope you guys [the press] can stop talking about LeBron and how he doesn’t play in big games,” said Rivers. “He was pretty good tonight. So we can put that to bed and play Game 7,” believing that LeBron has more than proved himself. If LeBron remembers on Saturday night that he’s still the League’s MVP, it’s going to be a long night for Boston, no matter what the Celtics throw his way.
Finding his old self again, LeBron James casts off all the lingering baggage from joining the Heat in 2010 and is back to his calling as the most dynamic player to grace the hardwood since Michael Jordan. Last night’s playoff breakthrough was summed up by Miami’s Head Coach Erik Spoelstra: “He was absolutely fearless tonight and it was contagious.” Spoelstra nailed it about James playing without fear—fear of disappointing himself and the fans. When he passed the ball at the end of the 2012 All-Star Game, Lakers’ iconic point guard Kobe Bryant urged LeBron to shoot. He learned last night that no one can stop him when he plays without fear and remembers what he does best. “I won’t regret Game 7,” LeBron said in post-game remarks, hinting that he’s ready for an encore performance. Boston’s three-point veteran Ray Allen said it best when he remarked, “Game 6 was Boston’s Game 7.”John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma
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