With the Miami Heat trailing the San Antonio Spurs 3-2 after five games in the 2013 NBA Finals, one player returns to South Beach with all the pressure squarely on his shoulders: LeBron James.
King James is widely considered — and you’d be a fool to disagree — to be the best basketball player on the planet. His combination of athleticism, strength, height, speed and basketball IQ has never seen before. He is capable of blowing by or out-jumping players taller or bigger than him; he can outmuscle or look over players quicker and shorter than him; and he can outsmart defenses that are specifically designed to slow him down. In a nutshell, LeBron James can do everything and anything he wants on a basketball court.
However, since first setting foot in the league as an 18-year-old, there has always been one area of his game routinely criticized by the media. LBJ often seems to dwindle away in big moments. It’s something that Nike even poked fun at in their first national LeBron commercial in which LeBron seemingly freezes when he receives the ball in his first game. There have been moments throughout his career where James essentially wilted in the spotlight (’07 NBA Finals ’10 Eastern Conference Semifinals, ’11 NBA Finals). But he wasn’t the first superstar to fold under the bright lights and he certainly won’t be the last, either.
In 2011-12, the world was greeted with a new LeBron. A scowl replaced his famous smile. Consistent rim attacks replaced his passive demeanor late in games. Unstoppable post moves replaced his perimeter game. In the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron carried the Heat, dominating the Celtics with averages of 34 points on 54 percent shooting, 10.8 rebounds, 4.2 dimes, 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals a night. At the end of the year, confetti poured down on American Airlines Arena and King James finally had a ring.
After defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games in the Finals, James said four words that effectively summed up his career: “It’s about damn time.” And he was right; it was about time that James won a title, about time he cemented himself at the top of the game, about time for all his naysayers and critics to eat crow.
Still the haters held their own grudges against LeBron, citing that his ring only came because of the lockout-shortened season and him teaming up with stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. But basketball has never been about one guy. All-time greats like Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Charles Barkley were never able to win it all. Ewing had Pat Riley as a coach and John Starks at his side and couldn’t get one. Barkley had Kevin Johnson and didn’t win. Payton had sharp-shooting Detlef Schrempf and the high-flying Shawn Kemp and didn’t get it done. Malone and Stockton were on the same damn team. The most talented team doesn’t always win the championship.