It’s 5 AM right now and I can’t sleep. The Miami Heat won the 2013 NBA Finals about 5 hours ago. Who can sleep after the seven game epic we all witnessed? After the season we witnessed?
Growing up as a basketball super fan, I connected to the sport through the stars and legends I watched first hand. Patrick Ewing. Shaquille O’Neal. Charles Barkley. MJ. But growing up with idols is different from growing with legends. I remember Jordan’s last shot in Utah, the Flu Game, and the final two title runs for the most part (dating my youth but I was 6 and 7 in ’97 and ’98 respectively), but I wasn’t aware for the first three-peat, the growth from ball-hog to GOAT. Nor was I for any Dream Team, most Dream Shakes, any Role Model refusals, or anything really till Jordan was just about ready to hang it up in Chicago.
I’d study the game. Follow the tales of the Association’s greats. I’d be amazed by the amazing. When my dad would pass along feats of wonder from the sport he witnessed as a fan. Kareem’s unblockable hook shot. Bird’s shooting streaks. A 6’9” point guard playing center. Magic stuff. I couldn’t wait for the day where I would see a player, from the start to finish of their career, who was so special, so incredible in what he could do with the game, that I would tell my kids about him, and they could marvel at his feats the same way I did with the past icons. That time is now and that player is LeBron James.
Win or lose Game 7 of the NBA Finals, James has had a 12 month period in hoops that stacks up with anyone’s in the history of the game. The breakout Game 6 in Boston. Dominating a five game Finals (one which was heavily profiled last year by yours truly) to win his first championship. An Olympic Gold medal as the star of the best team in the world. A historic regular season that saw a 28 game win streak. A near unanimous MVP. Carrying a team on his back all postseason long. Top it off with becoming only the third player after Jordan and Bill Russell to win back-to-back Finals and regular season MVP’s in the same campaign after being the leading (and sometimes lone) force in delivering a championship, and welcome to the last year of LeBron’s life.
Who else in the NBA can go from guarding David West one series to Tony Parker the next? Who else can handle the burden and responsibility of carrying a team by himself, when his All Star buddies look like they were zapped by the Monstars? Who else… you know what? We all know LeBron is a once-in-a-generation athlete. There’s no need to list each unique skill he possess and utilizes. I don’t have a word limit on this post, but I’m not trying to write a novel here!
We will tell our kids about the Game 6 headband-less heroics. The Splitter and Duncan blocked shots. Holding Parker, who no one else all postseason had an answer to, to only 10 points in the biggest game of the Frenchman’s last six years. We won’t tell them how he hit seemingly every free jumper or three the Spurs gave him in Game 7. We’ll tell them that we though each shot was good leaving his hand.
LeBron left Cleveland for Miami to not have to be the lone guy, to get help. Unfortunately for us, and what made us so mad by this choice, was James creating walls to bar himself from reaching his full growth and achieving his potential as a legend. But through his early lows and current highs, LeBron has shaped into a mature, aggressive, and intelligent basketball player and person. Who knows if he’s able to reach this level of personal success in Cleveland? Who knows if he could’ve reached this potential (or higher) elsewhere?But the athlete we see today is one that we are privileged to watch. Win or lose that Game 7, nothing more could’ve been asked from LeBron this year. An ailing Dwyane Wade. An embarrassed Chris Bosh. Both failed the Heat in moments all year. Yet James was there to catch the team before they fell too far. The Heat have a flawed and patch-worked roster, yet, look who’s the two time defending champs. A loss off the Ray Allen three hitting iron instead of the bottom of the net and inopportune Manu Ginobili turnovers don’t change that what we have in LeBron James is special. Because he’s 2-2 in the Finals and not 1-3, we don’t have to make that point clear to the audience of First Take.
Today, everyone will ask, what’s LeBron’s legacy? To be honest people, we’re no closer to an answer than we ever were. Magic Johnson said that LeBron could go on to be the greatest player ever… EVER. We live in a time in the media where words like “elite” are thrown out weekly. Where the narrative keeps changing, but we keep trying to write it in permanent ink. What’s LeBron’s legacy? I have no clue. But isn’t that beautiful? We could be watching one of the greatest players ever in basketball history, or, we could be watching THE greatest player ever in basketball history. The former is the correct answer now, but those aren’t too shabby of options right there.
It’s 6 AM now. I still can’t sleep. I’m thinking ahead to late October. Inside the NBA is on. The Heat are hosting whoever to kick off 2013-14. The quest for not one, not two, but three titles begins.
I think to an undetermined date. I’m watching classic basketball games at my house. Or I’m in Springfield walking around the Hall Of Fame, I can’t decide. My kids ask, “Dad, what was LeBron James like?”
I can’t wait to see the awe on their face when I tell them how special it was.