MIAMI, Fla. — Maybe this is how it’s always going to be for the world’s greatest player. No matter where he goes, no matter who surrounds him, maybe LeBron James will always have to do it himself.
If we learned anything from this spectacular NBA postseason, it’s that the Big Three in Miami didn’t last long. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are still there, but James was the hulking, huffing force that dragged the Heat to consecutive championships.
Wade was terrific in Game 7, but would’ve been home icing those aching knees long ago if not for James. Bosh came up with huge defensive plays in Game 6 and remains a tremendous post defender, but he was a foul-riddled, scoreless mess in the final game of the season.
Wade and Bosh can still be very good in spurts, but this championship was earned on James’ incredibly gifted shoulders. He consistently carried the Heat for two months in the playoffs while stinging Cavaliers fans with painful, constant reminders of what should’ve been.
He was rewarded with another NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy, giving him a matching set with last year’s haul. He is the first player since Michael Jordan in 1991 and 1992 to win both the regular season and Finals MVP trophies in the same season. He joins only Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as winners of at least four MVPs, two championships and two Finals MVPs. And James still hasn’t turned 30.
Yet as he clutched his trophies in the early hours of Friday morning, recalling his childhood days on Akron’s streets while bathing in the taste of champion’s champagne, I wondered how much harder this is than he expected.
He was so confident — arrogant — sitting on a stool at that ridiculous pep rally three years ago and predicting “not three, not four, not five…” championships for he and his buddies. He was naïve, even a little ignorant to how difficult winning even one title would be.
It was a much different James early Friday morning who admitted the Heat got a little lucky this time. That’s not to say they didn’t earn it, but most everyone, including James, will concede the Heat should have lost Game 6.
“You need a little luck to win an NBA championship,” James said. “And that’s exactly what we had. We had a little bit of luck.”
A loss in these Finals would have left the Heat with one championship in three years of this Big Three era, and certainly demands to break up this “failed” Big Three experiment would have followed.
Instead, James is again a champion, finally avenging that 2007 sweep at the hands of these Spurs. Well, avenging it for him. Cavs fans still feel pretty lousy about the whole thing. Then he took another shot at his former team.
“I knew I had to have better teammates in order to win the ultimate,” James said on the NBA TV set after the game. “I had to surround myself with guys that not only had the resume, but behind the scenes worked on their game each and every day. That’s what a lot of people don’t see. We coach ourselves, we police ourselves.”
James previously took similar shots at his former Cavs teammates, but three years and two titles later, it’s impossible to argue with his decision to leave. The Cavs’ roster was a mess. Maybe, eventually, he could’ve won here, but it’s highly doubtful the Cavs would’ve won two of the past three championships even with James around.
I won’t use all of this to segue into whether or not he is returning to Cleveland next summer. That’s ridiculous to debate now, particularly so soon after he won consecutive championships and has a chance at an elusive three-peat in Miami.
But if the Heat are going to get there, LeBron will navigate the way. Wade and Bosh are better than anything he had in Cleveland, but let’s not kid ourselves. This isn’t a Big Three. Hasn’t been for a while now.
This is LeBron James, the world’s greatest basketball player, fulfilling his massive potential. This is LeBron James pushing and pulling, sweating and spitting, dragging his teammates to glory.
It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. He was supposed to have more help from his friends. But 10 years in the league and two championships later, James is still going it alone. It’s the life of a mercenary. It’s his life as a champion.