It’s been exactly three years since LeBron James last walked off a basketball court having lost a playoff series. After leading his team to the 2011 NBA Finals in his first season with the Miami Heat, LeBron lost in six games to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.
There was a certain satisfaction most NBA fans had in seeing LeBron fail on the big stage. “The Decision” was still fresh in their minds, and most were gulping up the LeBron haterade as fast as they could. The way LeBron handled his departure from Cleveland upset a lot of people, who in turn rooted against him in the 2011 Finals.
After Miami won Game 1 at home against the Mavs, they led 88-73 in Game 2 with less than seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter. But Dallas went on a 22-5 run to win the game, in what was a crucial turning point in the series:
The Heat won Game 3, but LeBron scored just eight points in Game 4 as the Mavs evened the series. Dallas would win the next two games to take the championship. For the series, LeBron averaged 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists. He was the third leading scorer on the Heat in the Finals behind Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
In his post-game press conference after being eliminated in Game 6, LeBron addressed the haters:
LeBron’s response didn’t win him any new fans, but it was an understandable reaction given the scrutiny and criticism he dealt with that season.
In the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat faced elimination once again, this time trailing 3-2 in the series to the Boston Celtics, with Game 6 on the road. LeBron responded with an all-time performance, scoring 45 points along with 15 rebounds and five assists:
On that night, he answered all the questions we had about his ability to come through in a must-win game, and he’s continued to answer them since. In the three seasons since the Finals loss, the Heat have won two consecutive titles and are now seeking their third in a row.
This year’s Finals has been eventful through just three games. LeBron left Game 1 with leg cramps and the Heat face a 2-1 deficit after being blown out at home in Game 3. Despite trailing in the series, the Heat are now a team accustomed to adversity and overcoming it, and it’s reflected in the calm demeanor and quiet confidence which LeBron continues to exude despite being two games from elimination.
In 2011, LeBron was still chasing his first ring and dealing with all the criticism we were throwing his way. Three years later, he’s firmly entrenched as the best player in the world with two titles on his resume. Those old days seem like so long ago.
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