There are times in the sporting world where we sit back as sports fans, and we simply witness what is unfolding in front of us. The 2011 NBA playoffs was one of those unique events where on the grandest stage of them all, we were able to witness the power of legacy at work right before our eyes.
This year’s NBA Finals must have been a sports reporters dream, with so much star power and so many intriguing storylines that whatever you chose to write about was inevitably going to become a topical gem. However, amongst it all, there was a clear cut theme to these NBA Finals, and that was the theme of legacy.
When it comes to the prevalent theme of legacy the 2011 NBA Finals, no player had more at stake than a one LeBron Raymone James. From the moment he was drafted 1st overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, the pressure for LeBron to succeed was unmatched for any first year athlete in recent memory. We had all seen highlights of this kid on Sportcentre jumping to the moon to dunk over everyone in his way in high school, and it was expected that “King James” would change the landscape of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the NBA forever. We expected big things, but even with all the hype, I believe we underestimated the LeBron effect.
On paper, LeBron James has had quite the career thus far. He’s morphed a team from abysmal to contender, he has made All-star games, won MVP’s, won a gold medal, and has made some very interesting...decisions. When you look at that resume for a 26 year old, it seems almost impossible to doubt his greatness, but yet we still find LeBron as arguably the most polarizing figure in sports today, and he has left many of us wondering when it’s all said and done, are we going to remember him as “King James”, or LeChoke?
The fact of the matter is the guy is 26 years old, and he hasn’t even hit the prime of his career. So then why is his legacy in so much danger this early in his career? Could it still be because of his baffling Game 5 collapse against Boston in the 2010 playoffs? Or maybe his “decision” to take his talents to a team where he only needs to carry half the load? Or did this “choke” label only become validated the moment Dirk hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy above his head? I believe it is the culmination of all of these that begin to leave us hesitant if we will ever be able to call the most talented basketball player since Michael Jordan, one of the greatest of all time.
I don’t think that I have ever seen a professional athlete get scrutinized by the media as badly as LeBron is right now, but I believe he brought all of this upon himself. He asked for this. Moving out of his home state and signing with the Heat said two things about LeBron James: First of all, he was definitely serious about winning a championship. But secondly, it said that despite all the “Witness” billboards, the puffing out of his chest, the pregame chalk shower, and the rest of his outwardly cocky behaviour, LeBron James has self-confidence issues. The Miami Heat are Dwayne Wade’s team, and LeBron choosing to sign with them ahead of any other team on the market showed that LeBron was not yet confident in his individual ability to lead a team to a championship. This is where his legacy began to be in danger. Not only did LeBron need to now win a championship with this team, he also needed to be the MVP, or else despite his overwhelming talent, he would always be looked at as the Robin to Dwayne Wade’s Batman.
In the first three rounds of these playoffs, we undeniably witnessed moments of greatness from LeBron James. Offensively, he was consistently hitting shots we had hardly ever seen him make, distributing the ball flawlessly, and making his teammates around him better. Defensively he was shutting down everybody who had the misfortune of being guarded by him, including the league MVP Derrick Rose. Things were looking up for LeBron’s legacy going into the NBA Finals. However, as the games went by, LeBron slowly started to disappear, and although the Heat were still playing pretty well, LeBron submitted to Dwayne Wade, and the dominating figure we were seeing for the entire playoffs was nowhere to be seen. We know the rest of the story. LeBron continued to choke; the Heat became derailed because of it, and the dominating player who has made a career of posterizing anyone who dares to defend him, seemed terrified to attack the rim, and was not only deferring to Dwayne Wade, but even Udonis Haslem.
As we watched the Mavericks celebrate, and Chris Bosh once again make a fool of himself post-game, the world was left scratching their head about what had just happened. The popular question on sports broadcasts across the continent was: Did we just “witness” the destruction of LeBron James legacy? At this point in time, folks, things look bleak for LeBron. When the spotlight was the brightest, LeBron James simply disappeared. But I would advise LeBron James to look no further than to Dirk Nowitzki on what to do next. For 13 seasons, Dirk faced more adversity than many athletes see in their lifetime. People said that he was soft, that we wasn’t a leader, and -especially after their 2006 NBA Finals collapse against the Heat- that he was a choke artist. We can even look back a couple of months ago to the first round, where an overwhelming percentage of basketball “experts” had the Mavs getting ousted by Portland in the first round. Why? Because the world thought Dirk Nowitzki lacked the ability to lead a team to greatness. His “legacy” didn’t say otherwise. Now look at him. He’s the MVP, and just produced one of the greatest and most inspiring playoff runs in NBA history.
There is nothing that a sports fan appreciates more than a redemption story. And on Sunday, Dirk experienced redemption. On Sunday, Dirk’s legacy was rewritten. It no longer says soft, choke artist, or overrated, but instead it says dominant, clutch, and champion. Dirk has made it clear to me that LeBron’s legacy is not a closed case. To truly appreciate greatness to the fullest, you must first get a taste of defeat. Right now, LeBron James is defeated. And it’s very clear that he has a lot of maturing to do, both on and off the court. If LeBron approaches this experience properly, it only needs to be a wake-up call. Now, if LeBron cares at all about his legacy, he needs to take a good hard look at this experience, and grow from it. And only then, with a little luck, will there be a spot for “King James” back on his now empty throne.
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