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Column: James Carries Heat & NBA To New Levels

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MIAMI, FL - JUNE 20: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat poses for a portrait with the Larry O'Brien and the Finals MVP Trophy after defeating the San Antonio Spurs in Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals on June 20, 2013 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

MIAMI, FL – JUNE 20: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat poses for a portrait with the Larry O’Brien and the Finals MVP Trophy after defeating the San Antonio Spurs in Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals on June 20, 2013 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In the summer of 2010, NBA superstar LeBron James made “the decision” that re-shaped the game of basketball and angered millions of fans and media members. But three years later, it’s LeBron who has risen above it all to become the greatest player in his generation.

When James made the decision to come to Miami and join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh the vitriol thrown at him was almost unprecedented in sports. While the now infamous television special didn’t help, it was still James’ move to get what he ultimately wanted; multiple championships.

LeBron went from one of the most beloved players in the NBA to arguably the most hated all because he chose to form a winning team. James, Wade, and Bosh each made sacrifices of their own to form the new-look Heat but perhaps no one suffered in the media and with fans as much as James.

The pinnacle of pettiness aimed at LeBron came from Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. LeBron had played for Gilbert for his entire career, but Gilbert couldn’t build a champion and left James to play often times with very sub-par teammates.

Gilbert was so incensed that James would choose to move on from the Cavaliers and join the better franchise in Miami that he wrote an epic letter showing just how much Gilbert had come unglued in the aftermath of James’ decision.

“As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier,” Gilbert wrote. “You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.”

Gilbert continued (emphasis his), “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE.”

(FYI: The Miami Heat won more games in the 2012-2013 season than the Cavaliers have won since James left the team in 2010.)

Even for fan angst, the letter took it to another level. And that was a sign of things to come in the Heat’s first season together as the Big Three.

Every arena the team traveled to, it was a chorus of boos and it drove the Heat through much of the season. LeBron said he embraced the villain role and used it as fuel for his game. But things came apart for the Heat and LeBron in the NBA Finals when they lost to the Dallas Mavericks.

James then disappeared for a long time to process what happened and improve his game. Since that loss, he’s firmly established himself as the greatest player in the game with some of the most epic performances in the playoffs and regular season in a generation.

Whether fans wanted to or not, James’ mesmerizing displays of athleticism and ability had both opposing fans and opponents in awe by the time the game was over. LeBron quickly began to earn back the fans he had lost with “the decision” and by the time the next NBA Finals rolled around he was nearly back on top.

After disposing of the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, James hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy as NBA Champion for the first time in his career and he began to fulfill the promise he initially made when joining the Heat of not one, not two, not three, etc. championships.

He continued on from there winning a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics. He had previously won NBA Most Valuable Player before the 2012 Finals and also took home the 2012 NBA Finals MVP award. James would have won three-straight MVP awards had some in the media not wanted to make him pay after the decision.

James and the Heat came back for this season looking for the rare repeat as champions. The Heat came out flying before stumbling a little before the calendar rolled over to 2013. After that, powered by a 27-game winning streak, the Heat came into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in basketball.

By the time the final horn sounded in the deciding Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals, any questions about LeBron’s game, his ability, his passion, his love of the game and his teammates were put to bed, never to be seen again.

LeBron was a back-to-back champion and two-time defending NBA regular season and NBA Finals Most Valuable Player. His accomplishments in just two years validated everything he had done to this point in his career and could set the table for a dynasty in Miami.

“I just want this thing to keep going. I’m at an age right now where I’m ready to, you know, fly off somewhere. But I’m not going to, because the good lord has blessed me with a team that’s allowed me to grab onto his coattails, for as long as they want to be together.”

His numbers are second-to-none since he joined the Heat. In 2011 he averaged 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. In 2012, he averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game. This season, he averaged 27.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game in the regular season.

In the postseason, James elevated his game even further. He averaged 30.3 points per game in the Heat’s first championship run to go along with 9.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. This year, James fine-tuned his game more scoring 25.9 points, grabbing 8.4 rebounds, and handing out 6.6 assists per contest.

James has also vastly improved his shooting each season in Miami. In 2011, he shot 51 percent from the field and shot 53 percent in 2012. But this year, he took his game to a new level shooting a career-best 56.5 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from behind the three-point line.

Since James, Wade, and Bosh joined together in Miami, the rest of the league has been scrambling to build their own Big Three in some other city. The Brooklyn Nets tried, so did the New York Knicks. Los Angeles was next with Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol, but they failed.

Each opponent that has been put in the way of James and his Heat teammates have brought their very best game and it’s not been enough in the last two years. It’s a testament to the vision of Heat president Pat Riley, the coaching of Erik Spoelstra, and the unmatchable talent of the best player in the game.

LeBron said after Game 7 that “he’s not even supposed to be here,” because he’s an inner-city kid from Akron, Ohio. But, the city of Miami, the Miami Heat, the NBA, and the game of basketball are all better off because he is on the court and playing at a level that’s rarely seen in any generation of sports.

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