Hobbling with leg cramps, he could only give the Miami Heat three minutes of physical fortitude and skill before his body betrayed him again and he sat for the final minute. But those three minutes — featuring an assist and a monstrous three-pointer to give the Heat the lead for good — were enough to propel Miami to a three-games-to-one lead over Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals, a deficit no team in league history has recovered from since the 2-3-2 Finals format was introduced.
Whatever his condition and availability for Game 5 here on Thursday night, when the Heat can clinch its second title in franchise history and the first in the LeBron era, he chiseled his name into the annals of clutch playoff performances in June — a Willis Reed Lite moment that goes down as one of his most memorable postseason games and easily his most resilient.
“What did it feel like?” LeBron asked rhetorically. “I mean, I don’t know. I mean, you have to play sports and get a cramp to understand the feeling. It’s basically like your body just shuts down, your legs shut down on you, there’s nothing you can really do about it.”
He returned to the game, the Heat trailing by a bucket, and settled down his team. He dropped in a three-point bomb that made the arena explode with noise. Just like that, the guy who referred to himself as “King James” is within one victory of obtaining the hardware to validate the nickname.
Now comes the bigger question: He’s one victory from winning it the old-fashioned way — by earning it, by going through a gantlet of very good teams and very good players. Will he be able to catch a break in the perception department? Or will the entrenched and jaded among us still root against him because we are unable to alter our Bron-Bron biographies? Can we change the story we’ve imprinted in our mind about LeBron’s petulance, arrogance and braggadocio, stories that don’t quite square with what’s happening at the moment?
Or will we sail right past the notion that the MVP’s heart and head have just about caught up to his talent?
Bottom line, after all the bravado and buildup, after the postseason disappointment and the outright derision that followed “The Decision,” James is moving quickly toward one of those natural NBA ascensions.
Michael Jordan, after all, took seven years to finally scale Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons and be anointed king. Isiah waited for years to get past Larry and then Magic for his championship. In the same vein, LeBron has impatiently waited his turn, eight years and counting.