Before the clock wound down, Mario Chalmers began to prematurely celebrate with the crowd. LeBron James caught a whiff of it and immediately caught the attention of the young point guard.
“Not yet,” he said to Chalmers. “Play Ball”
If remembering last season correctly, the world was treated to an entitled personality that promised South Beach more than he could personally deliver. Did you catch that?
Before arriving at the conclusion that winning an NBA championship would be one of the hardest feats he has ever embarked upon in his life, James felt like the big man on campus, superior to most. Winning a ring? So what it took Michael Jordan seven seasons? So what Kobe Bryant has five with the help of players like Shaq?
In his mind, he was infallible. His talent was incomparable.
Hard work? Who me? I’m LeBron James. I deserve it.
Then reality struck in the name of Dirk Nowitzki and an obviously inferior-talented Dallas Mavericks team. James learned a crucial intangible in winning big in the NBA and how the greats managed to get it done.
It isn’t always about the box score. It’s rarely whether or not both teams came to play competitive basketball.
When an NBA Finals series is won, it is a direct result of playing with aggression and fundamentals. Superstars can collect on a single franchise and still be smothered by the heart and teamwork of a less notable squad. Players don’t win championships.
Teams win championships.
Teams chockablock of talent but with a jumbled conception of their overall personality will always falter. Just look at the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Kevin Durant – 3-time scoring champ
Russell Westbrook – Most athletic point guard in the league
James Harden – Sixth Man of the Year
Yet, on the biggest stage, at the most scrutinized moments of their short careers in the league, neither of those young men could rise to the occasion, consistently. Why?
Without an identity, franchises have no chance against more experienced, defined squads.
That is what Dwyane Wade forced James to give the Miami Heat. James pressured the Heat to form a character that echoed victory – by any means necessary.
Handing the team over to LeBron was not a nebulous gesture of good will or faith. Everything Wade has been through as a person and as a basketball player groomed him for the moment where he would have to come to the realization that he is not the player he used to be.
And that LeBron is everything the Miami Heat needed.
Throughout the season it was an ethereal reminder of James’ level of raw skill and athletics, but it would only matter most when the 2012 NBA Playoffs started and it was time for LeBron to make good.
It was high time for the three-time NBA MVP to redeem himself in the eyes of many who had written him off after he sunk into a black hole during the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
James should have collapsed if history is any precursor for the present.
He should have walked into Boston in Game 6 and fell to his knees waving a white flag. LeBron should have been nonchalant with his game and gave way to one of the most humiliating playoff exits at the hand of an aging Celtics squad.
Instead, James tucked his head and punched through every man standing in his lane. He picked the Heat up by their boot straps and willed them to victory. With sheer consistency and a face as cold as the blood that ran through his veins that night, James scored 45 PTS.
From that point on, no analyst could deny that look of urgency, of struggle, of desire.
“I won’t stop until I get it.”
James never looked back and he never rendered control. After Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals, this LeBron returned never to be thwarted again. Never to be denied again.
Kevin Durant defended him. Serge Ibaka defended him. James Harden defended him. Thabo Sefolosha defended him.
Everyone with the exception of coach Scott Brooks himself put a body on LeBron James. Yet, the attention he garnered stopped nothing and began flinging doors wide open for Miami’s three-point shooters like Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Shane Battier and Mike Miller.
Mike Miller, who began to feed off of the adrenalin being pumped through Miami’s veins in Game 5, was 7 of 8 from three-point range and slowly forced the dagger deeper and deeper into Oklahoma City’s championship aspirations.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, played two of the most critical roles in the NBA Finals. They would never be the ultimate heroes or highlights, but they would do everything in their power to achieve what just last year seemed so far out of reach.
The Big 3 would be left standing triumphant and there is no other player on the Miami Heat squad that could have been more responsible for it all, than LeBron James.
It may have taken a little under a decade to get here, but the King was crowned at the close of Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals.
One philosophy rang true.
“Not yet. Just play ball.”