LeBron’s Second

(Photo: New York Times)

Minutes after the Miami Heat won their second consecutive NBA title, the NBA on ESPN crew began to debate LeBron James’ place in basketball history. This is normal treatment for a player who has been labeled “the best player on Earth,” and “the successor to Michael Jordan,” and, for a few years, “the best player to have never won a championship,” has won two titles in two years. LeBron may be the most scrutinized player in the history of sports – with the validity of his legacy hinging on every possession – but that pressure will alleviate with every game that he plays and every title (if there are more to come) that he wins from here on.

LeBron James is the most athletically-gifted player that the league has ever seen; a 6 foot 8 inch, 250-pound man who can play every position and defend every position. He is without classification. The “Forward” next to his name on scoresheets is more of a suggestion than anything. But instead of being celebrated for his skill and talent, James is derided for the “Decision”s that he has made and is hated for having the audacity to want out of Cleveland and surround himself with players not named Boobie or Sasha.

He took less money to “take his talents to South Beach,” and gave a huge portion of the money that he made from “Decision” – $2.5 millon, actually – to a select few Ohio Boys and Girls clubs. The reason that people hate him most, the fully-televised, hour-long backstabbing of his hometown and home state, was actually a fundraiser for James’ most important charity.

LeBron James is one of only three players to ever win the regular season MVP awards, the NBA championship and the Finals MVP award in the back-to-back years, the others being Michael Jordan and Bill Russell. After the 2011 Finals collapse, LeBron has dominated the league – rising to every pressure-filled moment and winning games. But LeBron isn’t Michael Jordan, nor will he ever be. And I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Players from respective time periods can’t be compared to each other, yet these comparisons are 52 percent of ESPN and sports-talk radio’s programming.

After LeBron won his first title last year, the celebration spectacle looked more of an exhaustion being lifted off of his shoulders. He appeared to be so relieved, like it was the first time he had exhaled for 10 years. This time, though, the celebration was relief and satisfaction mixed with actual joy and freedom. There were no more questions to answer, no more pressure to arrive. Now, it’s not a question of “Will LeBron ever win a championship?,” it’s “How many will LeBron win?”

“Listen, for me I can’t worry about what everybody say about me. I’m LeBron James. From Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here,” James told ESPN’s Doris Burke at the trophy presentation ceremony after Game 7. “That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room I see a No. 6 with ‘James’ on the back. I’m blessed. So what everybody say about me off the court don’t matter. I ain’t got no worries!”

The pressure on LeBron to win his first title ended last year, the pressure to repeat as champions, and prove that the first one wasn’t just a fluke, ended last week. The expectation to perform has lifted and it is clear in those postgame comments. The “Star Yet To Win A Title” roulette wheel will now shift to Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and others. And those players will soon find out that being the best player on a team is often the hardest thing to be.

The only way for LeBron to gain respect from mostly everyone outside of Cleveland, who really need to think about their town’s sports history before lumping it all on LeBron, was by winning titles. And he’s done that.

As an admitted fan of a more-Westwardly-located basketball team, I have no rooting interest for the Miami Heat, but I have an appreciation of otherworldly talent. LeBron James is an once-in-a-lifetime player. He’s also a charitable, normally soft-spoken superstar who passes first and looks to get his teammates involved – a trait he’s had since high school. He isn’t complacent with his skillset and has learned to play in the low-post and developed a more consistent jump shot (See: 2013 Finals, Game 7).

He may have been naive in his earlier years, but he has since apologized and moved on. LeBron James is good for the NBA and he’s good for basketball as a whole. Don’t let your opinions of LeBron’s decisions off the court take away from the enjoyment of watching him play.

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