On July 8th of last year, LeBron James announced in front of a national audience on ESPN, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” That announcement unleashed a strong legion of “haters” – primarily from Cleveland – but with members all over the country. These haters are people who suddenly became fervently anti-LeBron for a variety of reasons: “The Decision” was a slap in the face to Cleveland, he’s a coward who can’t win without Dwyane Wade, he turned his back on a city that adored him, and the list goes on and on. I must admit, I am one of those people.
Everything about LeBron irritates me (although if he signed with the Nets, I’m sure I’d be willing to overlook many of the things I dislike about him). His ego is enormous, he seems to be constantly self-promoting himself whether it be with his “The LeBrons” cartoon series or “The Decision” special. When he wins or makes a great play, I find his celebrations to be over the top, particularly when he stole the ball at the end of the Boston series and looked back to gloat at Boston’s players. I think he sucker punched the city of Cleveland, leaving behind people who loved him unconditionally seemingly without any remorse. I thought, the fact that he didn’t even contact Dan Gilbert or other members of the Cavs’ organization to inform them of his thinking, despite the fact that they bent over backwards for him throughout his time there, was inconsiderate. I can continue going on with the reasons I, and many others, dislike LBJ, but there is one thing that myself and any other haters out there can, and should, not take away from LeBron: the legitimacy of this NBA Championship should the Heat win.
There are going to be fans and people in the media who will say that if LeBron wins a championship this year, or during his time with the Heat, it will be tainted by how the Big Three was put together and the fact that LeBron couldn’t carry “his own” team to the title. That line of thinking could not be more flawed, because what James has done this year in leading the Heat to the NBA Finals is truly remarkable; and if he wins, his accomplishments should not be tarnished but applauded.
Some people say that LeBron made a cowardly decision to go to the Heat and join forces with Wade and Chris Bosh on the inside track to an NBA dynasty, but to me I think leaving Cleveland took a lot more guts than staying there would have. He is disliked by an entire region in Northeast Ohio that had been his only home until this year. Had he stayed in Cleveland and brought them a championship – with or without another superstar – he would have been glorified not only in Cleveland, but by most of America. He would have been seen as the savior for a city still struggling to find a new identity in the wake of years of economic stagnation, and been beloved for eternity. Now he is hated, not only by those in Northeast Ohio, but by many across the nation, seen as a traitor whose allegiance with Wade and Bosh is suspect, and he may never be able to salvage his reputation again. Leaving Cleveland and all its love behind didn’t take cowardice, it took courage.
No player or team in the last 10 years has faced as much scrutiny as LeBron and the Heat this year. Every move he made was documented and analyzed like evidence in a “Law & Order” episode. ESPN even created the “Heat Index,” designed exclusively to cover the Heat, and hired Brian Windhorst, who has covered LBJ since middle school, to be one of the writers. His quotes were dissected meticulously; his on-court play was analyzed more closely than any other player’s. Even when his mom got arrested in Miami it was a big story because it was seen as another stain on LeBron’s image. Media members like Skip Bayless have tried to bring him down, and when LeBron insinuated early in the season that he was possibly playing too many minutes, he was blasted from every angle. Now, LeBron brought all this attention on himself, but I don’t think even he knew how scrutinized he and his team would be this year; and for them to be able to stick together throughout the year (with a few speed bumps along the way) is truly remarkable.
While the media served as a distraction, there was also the midseason debate about Erik Spoelstra‘s job security. Spoelstra had just been handed three superstars, with the egos to match, and two months into the job was being questioned by his own players, including LeBron. This wouldn’t have been as big of a deal had Pat Riley not been lurking in the front office. Riley has stepped in to coach many times before and the potential lame duck status of Spoelstra could have led many players to quit on him, but the Heat never did and Riley remained in his seat in the stands instead of on the bench.
Lastly, no team can win a championship with only three players, but that is essentially what the Heat are on the verge of doing this year. There are few teams in NBA history as top heavy as this Heat team. After Bosh, the talent level drops off significantly even compared to other playoff teams. Miami saw two of its key pieces lost to injury early in the year in Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. Jamaal Magloire, Erick Dampier, an over the hill Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Joel Anthony have made up the center rotation (not counting Bosh because he primarily plays power forward) for the Heat this year. Anthony is the only one of those four who would likely even be in a rotation for another NBA team right now. At point guard, the Heat have a statue-esque Mike Bibby starting now and have seen Mario Chalmers and Carlos Arroyo (now in Boston) both start at points during the season. Not exactly what the Celtics had in 2008 with Kendrick Perkins at center and Rajon Rondo at point guard. The team’s depth has been troubling, yet somehow the Heat, led by LeBron, have found a way to win and advance this far.
So while I will be rooting very hard for the Dallas Mavericks, I can’t help but be in awe of what LeBron has accomplished this year. He has overcome microscopic media scrutiny, coaching uncertainty and a lack of depth to help bring his team to the NBA Finals. And for anyone who says this is Wade’s team, I think after watching LeBron’s closing performances against Chicago and Boston, it is fair to say LeBron has become the alpha dog in Miami. If he leads them to a title, his accomplishment should not be tarnished, but applauded – because it was a job well done.
What do you think?
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