This year – at least publicly – LeBron put everything behind him and went back to playing brilliant basketball simply because he could. He had put the work in to become a complete player, learning post moves from Hakeem Olajuwon and becoming arguably the best defensive player in the game. And most importantly, he finally got his priorities back in order.
“I have short goals — to get better every day, to help my teammates every day — but my only ultimate goal is to win an NBA championship,” James said in Sports Illustrated in April. “It’s all that matters. I dream about it. I dream about it all the time, how it would look, how it would feel. It would be so amazing.”
There would be no fourth-quarter collapses this time, no “LeChoke” headlines, not against a Thunder team that hadn’t yet paid the dues necessary to win a championship. There were only triple-doubles, victories in bunches and a weight lifted after years of losing his final game of the season. Along the way, LeBron silenced his critics simply by keeping an even keel and giving them nothing tangible to attack him for.
And yet… after the dust settled, if you looked closely enough, you might still catch a glimpse of the now well-hidden chip on his shoulder. The final question of his postgame press conference was something about the season being shortened due to the lockout. LeBron answered:
“66 games… 82 games… Shit, we could have played one regular-season game.
“I’m an NBA Champion, and that’s all that matters.”
With that, LeBron James scooped up the NBA championship trophy and his Finals MVP Award. He succinctly and wryly told the media, “Love you guys.” And he headed toward an offseason spent basking in success, cracking bottles of Ace of Spades and chasing Olympic Gold.
But before he exited stage right, he stopped for just a second, turned around and held up both trophies with a big, mischievous grin. It almost seemed as if he were saying, “Gotcha!” in one final, fleeting moment of defiance.
And if that’s actually what he was trying to get across? It would be difficult to say he hasn’t earned it.
How do you feel about LeBron now that he’s finally done it? Does the end justify the means?
Follow Bryan on Twitter at @SportsAngle.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.