While his incredible gifts resulted in his winning three MVP awards, James struggled to fulfill the championship promise. But this season was about James redefining his image and his destiny, about blocking out the noise and becoming more centered — about becoming a champion.
Surrounded by a sea of white shirts, flanked by the teammates that he tarnished his reputation to join with one controversial decision, his moment finally came in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night at American Airlines Arena. History is often kind to winners, and with the Miami Heat’s resounding 121-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, James has assumed his place among the all-time greats.
“It was a journey for myself,” said James, who became the 10th player — and first since San Antonio’s Tim Duncan in 2003 — to win regular season and Finals MVP. “All the ups and downs, everything that came along with it, I had to basically figure it out on my own. I’m happy now nine years later since I’ve been drafted that I can finally say that I’m a champion, and I did it the right way. I didn’t shortcut anything. I put a lot of hard work and dedication in it, and hard work pays off. It’s a great moment for myself.”
Closing out his end-to-end dominance of this lockout-shortened season, James had a triple-double (26 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds) and claimed the title that seemed inevitable when he entered the league in an unblemished white suit on the night of the 2003 NBA draft. With 3 minutes 1 second remaining, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra pulled James from the game and he hugged his teammates as fans chanted, “MVP! MVP!”
James didn’t need to have another dominant performance or fight through agonizing cramps because he had Chris Bosh overcoming his abdominal strain to dunk and snarl, Dwyane Wade playing through soreness in his knee to make impossible layups and blocked shots and the bandaged and padded-up Mike Miller overcoming a litany of ailments to make seven three-pointers.
A coronation nine years in the making was complete for James.
“I’m proud of him,” Wade, the 2006 NBA Finals MVP, said of his close friend, James. “He really took being the best player in the league to another level, and he did it all season long, man. Thanks to him, we’re able to celebrate once again.”
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the young Thunder had to look on as James danced and preened on the floor where the Dallas Mavericks crushed Miami’s championship dreams a year ago. After the game, James and Durant shared an embrace at midcourt, with James shouting encouraging words in Durant’s right ear. Durant later cried as he embraced his parents, Wanda and Wayne Pratt, on his way to the locker room.