After two years of scrutiny, it looks like LeBron James was right
By: Aaron Katzker
“This fall, I’m gonna take my talents to South Beach, and join the Miami Heat.” With that, the nation turned on LeBron James, turning the two-time MVP into a villain and the most scrutinized player in the history of professional sports. By joining his friends, and fellow all-stars, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron was admitting what all of us know yet for some reason do not want our superstars to believe. In order to win a championship, he was going to need help. Keep in mind that for the previous 3 years, the Boston Celtics were the dominant force in the Eastern Conference. After putting together their “Big Three” (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen), the Celtics went on to two of three NBA Finals; the lone year that they didn’t get out of the East, KG did not play in the playoffs. In addition to the Big Three, the emergence of Rajon Rondo as an all-star caliber point guard gave the Celtics the look of a team that would continue to dominate the East unless the landscape changed dramatically. LeBron James knew that. Dwyane Wade knew that. Chris Bosh knew that. You have to give these guys credit for accepting that fact, and rather than being driven by their egos to each be “the man”, they came together, each taking less money in annual salary than they would have had they gone elsewhere, for the purpose of building a championship team.
Still, things were not as easy, as LeBron, and most of the media expected. Having thrown together almost an entirely new team whose role players were almost all veterans past their prime hanging on for a championship, the Heat struggled to get consistent production from anyone outside of the Big Three. Even the Big Three had their issues. James, Wade, and Bosh all had to adjust to having less touches and putting up less shots, all while learning how to play together and with their other new teammates. Heck, even in last year’s playoff run to the NBA Finals where the Heat were praised for beating their rival and influential Celtics and the top-seeded Bulls each in 5 games, the Heat did it on the back of “hero ball”. For those not familiar with the term, this refers to a team not running traditional offense, but rather letting a star-player hold onto the ball in an isolation situation and hoping that they can score. In last year’s Eastern Conference Semis and Finals, hero ball worked for Lebron, as he consistently made big shots in crunch time of close games against Boston and Chicago. Against Dallas in the Finals, though, his jump shot abandoned him, and faced with the task of having to play together in order to beat a formidable Mavs team, the Heat failed. What was most troubling was that, with his jumper failing and Dallas playing a compact zone geared towards stopping James from getting into the paint, LeBron relegated himself to a corner, and far too often merely watched his teammates fall apart.
Following his Finals failure, in which James had the largest drop in scoring average from regular season to NBA Finals of any player in NBA history, LeBron decided he had to get better. He worked with Hall of Fame center, Hakeem Olajuwon, to develop more of a post-game. Meanwhile, the Heat were determined to get better as well. Miami signed Shane Battier in the off-season as a free agent, and coach, Erik Spoelstra went to work on designing a new offense for Miami to run in year two of The Big Three. The result was LeBron having arguably his best season as a professional, winning his 3rd MVP award, and leading Miami to their second straight NBA Finals appearance, and eventually the franchise’s second NBA title.
Now, while the overwhelming majority of the media has turned this into “The King’s Coronation”, and it was obvious both to those who watched and those who read box scores that LeBron played infinitely better than he played against Dallas a year earlier, this series wasn’t won just on the back of LeBron James. The Heat beat the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder, for the most part because they did it as a team. Miami got huge contributions from role players like Battier, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, and Norris Cole. Never was this more on display than in Game 4. After falling to the floor hard midway in the 4th quarter, LeBron was noticeably limping, and eventually had to be carried to the Heat’s bench. He would return, still limping, to hit a huge three to put Miami ahead by that same margin, but again had to sit with 2 minutes left because the pain was two great. Then Miami did what Cleveland never could, and what they themselves couldn’t a year before – they picked up LeBron. No, I’m not talking about Juwan Howard and Udonis Haslem carrying LeBron to the Heat sideline. I’m talking about each and every Heat player on the floor stepping up and making a play to help Miami win. Dwyane Wade took control of the offense, but instead of resorting to hero ball, he made plays for Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. He also added a timely block and steal on the defensive end. Chalmers took over with a 13 point 4th quarter. Udonis Haslem held onto a loose ball that resulted in a jump ball between him and James Harden. Haslem won the tip, but then it was Shane Battier out leaping Kevin Durant to tap the ball to an open Chalmers, who subsequently got fouled. The resulting free-throws made it a two possession game, and the Heat took a stranglehold in the series. Then, in the series-clinching game, LeBron got even more help from his teammates, as Battier, Chalmers, and Miller combined for 44 points, including 23 from Miller, who made 7 three-pointers, the most ever by a bench player in a Finals game.
At the end of the day, LeBron James got better. He deserved his Finals MVP award, but he didn’t earn it on his own, and had he stayed in Cleveland we might be talking about a Boston Celtics dynasty instead of a possible repeat in Miami. Just as the Heat needed LeBron to help them capture their second title, LeBron needed the help of a great team around him. This year, he finally got that help, and now he is a champion. I guess he made the right decision after all.