“It’s about damn time” -LeBron James
LeBron James couldn’t contain his happiness. Pulled from the game with three minutes remaining and the victory well in hand, James began his championship celebration on the bench. It’s hard to remember a Finals MVP who was that visibly happy, that willing to let the world get a glimpse inside. So many times a star player will collapse in exhaustion or cry like a baby, unable to speak to anyone. That’s not LeBron James, never has been. As he admitted after the game to Stuart Scott, he plays the game of basketball to be happy. He was never meant to play the game with the anger that drove people like Jordan. At long last, the King has a crown. LeBron James is a three-time MVP, a Finals MVP, and most importantly, he’s a champion. And I’ll be damned if he doesn’t deserve it.
To think how far LeBron James has come is to take a journey. Who can forget the immaturity, the overconfidence, and the failures that have plagued his career? There was the early promise, the game against the Pistons, the way he consistently carried the worst rosters in the NBA to the cusp of greatness. Then there was the failure of Cleveland management to find him a reliable teammate, the fourth quarter let downs, and the ugly way he seemingly quit on his teammates in the playoffs. And finally there was The Decision, the premature championship celebration/introduction, the douchey way he reminded the rest of America last year that they were not LeBron James. Some how, through all of that mess, LeBron James grew up and became the best damn basketball player since Michael Jordan. And now, he has the first of what will surely be many rings to go with the reputation.
If only all the games had been as easy as this one.
It was apparent from the opening whistle that something was off in this game. Both teams came out in sloppy fashion. They failed to take care of the basketball and it was made all the worse that the refs were calling the softest of fouls. Fans were hard pressed to tell whether Oklahoma City was ready to begin the most legendary of NBA Finals comebacks or if the Heat were going to shut the door on their last hopes.
It didn’t become clear until a graduate of the University of Florida by the name of Mike Miller made the most of what might be his last opportunity to play professional basketball. It’s been rumored throughout the playoffs that he might be forced to retire because of injuries after this season ended. Miller, who was pegged as the fourth wheel during the summer of the Big Three’s construction, has largely been viewed as a disappointment up until this game. Many around the league feel that the Heat devoted way too much money to him when that salary cap room might have been better spent on a serviceable big man. It doesn’t help that he also seems to have been injured his entire two years in South Beach. But after this performance, it all seems worth it.
To put it simply, Mike Miller did not miss.
He finished the game with 23 points on 7-of-8 shooting from three. LeBron James may have slowly eroded the spirit of the Thunder over time, but Miller appeared in a Mariano Rivera fashion to absolutely suck the life out of the Heat’s opponent. The way he so effortlessly drained those seven long-range shots completely closed out any chance the Thunder had of winning the basketball game and forcing the series back to Oklahoma City. It’s impossible to overstate just how profound an impact they had on the Thunder’s confidence. It was the sign of a player giving absolutely everything he had. He left it all out on the floor.
From there, it was simply a matter of time till the Heat got back to doing what they do best under LeBron James–having fun. The lead exploded in the third quarter when Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier got in on the festival of three-pointers that Miller started. It’s important to point out that all of this long-range shooting was possible because of the surgical manner with which LeBron James picked apart the Thunder’s defensive game plan.
For how many years now have LeBron’s critics wondered what was possible, if only he would embrace the low-post game? James finally bought into the style of play and it completely decided the series. The Thunder had no player who could match him in isolation and James punished them for it, scoring at will. When they brought help on a double team, he simply kicked it out to the above three-point shooters who found themselves more than wide-open on almost every single attempt.
He was so effective during these Finals that it was hard not to make comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki last year or, dare I say it, Larry Bird. What’s terrifying is that LeBron brings even more things to the table than either of those guys. He’s a better defender, he’s far more athletic, he’s way stronger, and he can play every position on the floor. It’s as if LeBron James is a perfect athletic hybrid of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, with a little of Karl Malone’s freakish body mixed in for good measure.
By the time all of those threes swished through the nets it was over, and the Heat’s style of play reflected it. LeBron and Wade began throwing risky passes that belong more in ESPN’s Top Ten than the NBA Finals. Alley oops started going down. The team began to have that funny problem where they actually overpass because they want each other to succeed so badly. And most of all, they were visibly having fun. Wade and Bosh joined LeBron in being unable to contain their smiles.
It’s hard not to be happy for them. The great fear when LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach was that the Heat would cheapen the value of championships in professional sports. What was the point of tuning in anymore if all the star players were just going to end up on the same team one day and hold a monopoly on all the titles? America feared that it would lose the romantic aspects of winning such as grit, toughness, the value of team play, defense, and the special way in which a player and a city can be completely defined by each other. If you asked the Heat players now, that probably was the original plan.
They found that it wasn’t that easy though. Dallas exposed them last year simply because they wanted it more. The Mavericks used the timing of having a perfectly constructed roster and the desperation of veterans late in their careers to steal a title that by all rights should have belonged to the far more talented Heat. It revealed something and it nearly happened again this year with a Boston Celtics team that simply wasn’t ready to give up despite being in the fifth year of a three-year plan.
And that’s how basketball works. There is nothing lost in this championship, no shame in any of it. Great basketball teams and great basketball players don’t break through until their elders teach them just exactly what it takes to win a championship. It’s the circle of life of the NBA and it still holds true to this day. Where would Chris Bosh be without Kevin Garnett taunting him mercilessly the last two years? Where would LeBron James be without the likes of DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, and Paul Pierce? The cycle repeated itself once again and all is right in the NBA.
Like any good cliffhanger at the end of an action movie, it’s worth mentioning that four of the Thunder’s stars are less than 23-years old. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a free agent head coach available by the name of Phil Jackson who would like nothing more in this world than to wipe the smug look off of Pat Riley’s face, his only living peer. And finally, it’s worth mentioning that the final shot of Kevin Durant completely losing control of his emotions in the arms of his parents is one of the biggest tell-tale signs of great things to come in basketball. Durant has now tasted disappointment. He’s currently in that darkest of dark place that so often inspires so much greatness. The first fight went to LeBron sure, but Durant will be back and as any good fight fan knows, the greatest rivalries always come in threes.
Congratulations to the Miami Heat, your 2012 NBA Champions.
The real work starts now.
This is a new experiment where I try to imagine a world in which each of the remaining NBA playoff teams goes on to win the NBA title this year. Apologies to all Sixers and Pacers fans, you have no chance and are therefore excluded from my four fantasy worlds. Without further or do, take a trip into my beautiful dark twisted fantasy.
[time traveling one month ahead]
San Antonio Spurs
And thus begins a summer where one of the biggest decisions in NBA history will be made. Will Tim Duncan choose to come back and play for the Spurs after winning his fifth NBA title on an expiring contract? The Spurs have the potential to go on another dynasty run. The championship squad loses only Danny Green and Boris Diaw to free agency, both of whom would likely re-sign at discounted prices. The rest of the team is signed for a title defense and the scary part is they could add even more pieces if Duncan took any kind of a reduction from the $21 million he earned this past season. Is it worth it though? Duncan would have the rare opportunity to walk off while on top of his sport all while winning his fourth Finals MVP. This puts him easily in the conversation for the best seven players ever to play the game. It’s no secret his body is breaking down and he struggles to recover from the long NBA schedule. The question will ultimately come down to how badly Tim Duncan wants to continue playing basketball and if he wants to edge into the conversation for top three players ever. No seriously, he could likely get to six, maybe seven titles before his body completely goes. [checks notes] Mark it down people, Tim Duncan just signed on for another three years and disrupted the championship aspirations of every young buck in the NBA. LeBron James cries himself to sleep somewhere.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant finally fulfilled his destiny and became everything America wanted LeBron James to be. The media and the bandwagon NBA fans can’t create enough cliches to describe how “clutch” Kevin Durant is and how he “gets it.” At times it’s hard to argue with the logic though as Durant hit a game-winner in game two and iced the game from the free throw line in games four and six. The final freebies in game six eventually sealed the deal on the Thunder’s first title and broke the hearts of Sonics fans everywhere. The Thunder are poised to become the next alpha dogs of the NBA after unseating the Mavericks, Lakers, Spurs, and Celtics in consecutive series, all of whom represented the last stand of the old guard in the NBA. There seems to be no reason the Thunder can’t vie for the next two NBA titles and contend for the first three-peat since the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. Their success directly led to Ray Allen’s decision to leave Boston in free agency as well as force Kevin Garnett’s retirement. Beyond this it gets questionable for the Thunder as a franchise though. Can they afford to keep both Ibaka and Harden? Harden surely could convince a team to pay him max money. Will they convince him to go the Manu Ginobli route instead of the Maurice Lucas on guys who should play second fiddle on a contender but could earn alpha dog money on a pretender? Will the infamous “Disease Of More” grab hold of this team and eventually cause Russell Westbrook to demand a trade? Lots of interesting questions surrounding these young Thunder and head coach Scott Brooks. For now, we pause to celebrate their remarkable accomplishment. No seriously, Kevin Durant is only 23 years old and already has a Finals MVP!
They did it again. They fooled us all into believing this was really their last shot and now they have us all wondering if Kobe wasn’t the only aging NBA star to go receive secret knee treatments in Germany. Can you believe the nerve of this team? We now have to consider them as an actual force that changed the history of the NBA rather than a squad that put together one random championship. Selfish! As the famous Bob Ryan quipped, “they were in a year five of a three-year plan,” and now they go off and win the freaking NBA title, defeating no less than LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the process. There’s just something about this damn team where everybody knows when it’s their turn to carry the load and responds accordingly. Who can forget the Ray Allen explosion to steal game one for 33 points, on the road no less? After dropping game two, Kevin Garnett gave a vintage KG 25-15 performance to help the Celtics win game three. Rajon Rondo did the Rondo thing to win game four with a staggering 20-15-13 line that made us all question who the best point guard in the NBA really is. Who else could it be if the young Celtic has two rings and Rose/Paul/Williams/Westbrook have zero combined? And then, of course, Paul Pierce shut it down in game six to give the Celtics the most improbable of NBA Championships. In related news, Bill Simmons broke the record for longest sustained erection and we all have to spend the summer reading his tribute columns to his latest favorite Celtics squad ever. No seriously, consider all that happened to make this possible: Derrick Rose got hurt, Dwight Howard got hurt, Chris Bosh got hurt, Dwyane Wade played on one knee, Manu Ginobli went down with an ankle injury, and Kendrick Perkins fell victim AGAIN with a knee injury in the finals. How badly did the basketball gods want this to happen? And why can’t things go like this for the Nuggets for once? With a salary reduction in order for KG after an expiring contract, are they now an outside contender to land Dwight Howard? I hate everything.
Oh my. Did we just witness the beginning of something special? Did LeBron James really just average a triple double in the NBA finals against a Duncan/Popovich Spurs squad? Are we sure that’s legal? It may have been the single most dominant NBA Finals by a single player ever, with LeBron finally proving to all his critics that he really did only need one more marquee player to win that elusive title. As Chris Bosh sat on the sidelines, LeBron and Dwyane Wade embarked on the greatest conquest by a talented duo since Jordan and Pippen simply refused to lose NBA titles to the far more talented Utah Jazz teams. And I have to admit, I find it quite poetic. For some reason it just feels right that they did it without Bosh to finally break through for the first title in the era of the super teams. There are long term ramifications for this championship. The first consequence is that every franchise in the NBA is now going to try to replicate the formula and it will likely lead to even more restrictions on player movement when the owners opt out of the CBA early, and bet the family mortgage that this happens. Another long-term implication is that the other players in the NBA are scared. Really scared. Everything these players, coaches, GMs, and owners have been taught and witnessed their whole lives led them to believe that you needed a true team in order to win a title. If two gentlemen can pair up, independent of the wishes of GMs and owners, and win the NBA title by themselves, what chance do the others have? It would be like Barack Obama getting elected back in the 1960s. Heads are spinning everywhere and no one is sure how to react. If there is anything to be thankful for it’s this. We no longer have to listen to all the LeBron banter about his unclutchness or how he has no rings. The only debate now is how many will he win in a row. Damn. How are they going to stop him if he continues to play like that????
The real bowler:
And Murray in Kingpin: