The wait ended last night: LeBron James cemented the last verification needed for his future Hall-of-Fame legacy by winning an NBA Championship. Now, the wait begins to see how he will react.
There was no doubt that LeBron was the reason the Miami Heat won the 2012 NBA Finals. He may have not been as clutch as Kevin Durant, but James contributed greatly to the Heat in every playoff game. He averaged over 30 points a game for the entire playoffs; he averaged nearly 10 boards a game; he averaged 5.6 assists per game; he had 16 blocks in 23 games; he averaged 42.7 minutes; and he knocked down half of shots during the entire 2012 playoffs. Across the board, LeBron was the catalyst on a Heat team that clicked as an entire unit. He knocked down jumpers, drove to the basket and picked up fouls, hit clutch free throws, created second-chance plays, and played hard defense. Every facet of LeBron’s 2012 playoff performance was geared toward that singular aspiration: a championship. He had an illustrious Finals performance and a superb playoff performance overall, all fit for a champion. He wanted the ring so bad, and now, he has it.
Great. Now what? Now that LeBron has reached the pinnacle, will he revert back to his old persona? Will his ego burst now that he received that which he always wanted?
I don’t know for sure.
In the past, LeBron showed a level of narcissism and thick headedness that made so many people want to root against him: “LeBron stays humble just by being LeBron.” “So until you understand who LeBron James is, LeBron James is in a win-win situation, and will continue to be in a win-win situation.” “Because at the end of the day, all the people that was rooting on me to fail, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They have to get back to the real world at some point.”
Wow, really, man?
LeBron genuinely believes he’s amazing, that’s for sure. For as long as he’s been in the public eye, James has over-appreciated himself. There have been some attempts on his part to be humble, but nothing as major as clutching into himself and saying, “Aw shucks, guys, I’m not that great!” Nope, the truth has always been evident to LeBron, told to him by coaches and scouts. As a result, LeBron has hardly ever fully put himself down, humbling himself. He has always known he was the best. The only modest aspect he exhibited was that he knew he wasn’t a champion, so he couldn’t call himself a legend yet.
James’s desire to win was legitimate, though. He left his home state and a gigantic fan base just so he could go to the team that was most-suited to take him to the Finals. It wasn’t even about money, as he turned down a bigger paycheck in New York and other cities simply so he could be on the club with the greatest ammunition. LeBron knew he would receive hate from all over the country if he went to South Beach, but he didn’t care; he wanted to win that slithering title. If it meant being the most hated man on Earth, it would be worth it if he could get the gold trophy.
The near-obsession LeBron James had towards winning a title drove him to make the best of himself. He’s made mistakes in his career – many mistakes – but he appeared to, at the very least, try to hide away his errors in character so he could focus on winning a title. This entire season, LeBron’s ego was weakened, not as focused on his agenda. He put the attention on his team as a whole and their goal to win the Finals, never letting himself be satisfied with anything else and indulging in it.
There is a fair amount of evidence that shows that LeBron changed his character so he could win a title. LeBron showed focus in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals that rivaled Kobe Bryant, hardly ever touting his own super play, even though he scored more than 40 points when his team was on the brink of elimination. When he won his third Most Valuable Player award in four seasons, James simply said that he was honored, not even cracking much of a smile, preferring to pay more attention to the playoffs. And even when the championship-clinching game was essentially sealed at the end of the 3rd quarter of Game 5 of the Finals, LeBron wouldn’t allow his teammates to relish in the love from the crowd and soak in the glory yet. This season, LeBron has never fully appreciated his complete play. He hasn’t opened up his arms on a giant stage and waved his hands inward. He hasn’t shown The Arrival narcissism in 2011-2012. When compared to how he used to be – referring to himself in the third person and pouting when things went wrong – James has been a saint. This reservation came about because he realized that he wouldn’t win a championship without complete focus on winning with his team. He learned from his failure last year that he has to have champion character along with champion play in order to win the final prize; basking in vices wouldn’t help. He realized that nothing he did mattered unless he won the Finals, so there was no point savoring his accomplishments and talented play.
How genuine that focus and humility was is the real burning question. Has LeBron turned a new leaf, or was it an act so he could win a championship? Was he holding back until he was on top of the world, waiting to truly love himself? I, like many others, wonder how he will act now that he has accomplished his greatest goal. There is a chance that this success will go to his head, revert him back to the old LeBron, seeing himself as the be-all and end-all. All the attention is glaring on him because he was so vital to the Heat winning the title. There will be hundreds of interviews, thousands of autographs to be signed, millions who will acknowledge James as the best in the game, and one, giant parade that will feed into LeBron’s ego, telling him, “You did this!” Any person could become tainted and grow a big head as a result. To a man like LeBron who has been catered to have a giant cranium already, such display and devotion towards him could pollute him greatly. There is no doubt whether or not he is the king of basketball now. But what’s his next move? Will he drive himself to remain humble so he can win more championships, or will the next move be checkmate to the good LeBron James?