LeBron James was overcome with unbridled joy last June as the trophy landed in his hands for the first time. Eyes widened, agape, James had the look of a father greeting his first-born child in the delivery room.
The genuine reactions of the greats who had to endure long waits before the weight of expectations were finally lifted have been captured on commemorative DVDs and YouTube videos. But the responses by those players in subsequent years are how legendary careers are defined.
“Do I feel different? I’m a champion. I feel like that,” James said recently. “But I still have goals. I accomplished one of my goals. It’s the biggest goal I had. Now I’ve got to set out for more.”
After hearing for years that a scorer could never lead his team to a title, Jordan won his first ring at age 28, won the next two years, retired, came back and won another three. Before claiming his first ring at age 28, O’Neal heard repeatedly that he wasn’t dedicated enough to his craft to ever win but followed up by winning the next two years and adding one more title before his career was over.
Now that he has risen to the top at age 27, discovered and embraced his own strength, James no longer has to answer the question, “When will he?” Though people will now wonder, “How many?”
James is one of eight players in NBA history to win at least three most valuable player awards. Moses Malone is the only member of that elite fraternity to retire with just one championship. Wilt Chamberlain won two, and the other five finished their careers with at least three.
“I know the history of the game and I know what’s been accomplished in this league throughout the years, but I’m my own man and I have to make my own mark,” James said during his media day news conference. “As far as legacy, I don’t think about that at this point. I still have a lot of basketball to play.”
With James finally unburdened, the NBA could be bracing for another era of dominance, in which a generational talent has cleared a major hurdle and gone from an empty well to a deluge.
“I would love for it to be that way,” Dwyane Wade said with a huge smile in the locker room after an exhibition loss to Washington in Kansas City, Mo. “But we’ll see. This is a very competitive league. You’ve got other teams that’s very hungry.”
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder are eager to complete their annual ascension after losing in the Finals to James and the Heat in five games.
The Los Angeles Lakers added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol as they close in on catching Boston for the most titles by any franchise — and Bryant continues his pursuit of Jordan’s six titles. Boston, which lost Ray Allen to the Heat, reloaded with more talent and depth after losing the Eastern Conference finals to Miami in seven games.