It’s about time, LeBron.
Last night, for the first time ever, I finally saw the LeBron that I’ve always wanted to see. With 3:44 left in the Miami Heat’s 93-79 game one victory over the Boston Celtics, LeBron finally showcased the swagger (forgive me for applying the most annoyingly overused term in modern sports dialect) that is expected from the world’s best basketball player.
After out-hustling Kevin Garnett for an offensive rebound late in the contest, LeBron quickly went back up with it before being hammered from behind by Garnett. In typical Garnett fashion, Garnett then tried to stand as close to LeBron as possible, and proceeded to give him one of his infamous stare downs. In previous instances, I feel LeBron would have simply attempted to walk away and play the role of the politically correct, overly calculated Good Samaritan that he has always tried to be. Last night was different. Finally.
As Garnett crowded him, LeBron stood his ground, palmed the ball, looked up at the crowd and cried out, “Yeaaa, Yeaaa, Yeaaah” in a tone only an annoying younger sibling could imitate. As bothersome as his taunts likely were, LeBron then further poured salt in the wounds by reaching the ball out past Garnett’s face and held it there as a referee hustled over. Just as the official reached for the outstretched ball, cameras caught LeBron rolling his eyes towards Garnett and smiling a big, shit-eating grin.
After a night when LeBron put up 32 points and 13 rebounds, this is exactly how LeBron should have acted. There is no secret that Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were two of the most notorious trash talkers in the history of the NBA. Both of those players displayed swag long before the term had saturated thousands of rap songs. Each of those players had a supreme confidence about their abilities and weren’t afraid to let others around them know it.
Up until this point of his career, LeBron has always seemed to strive to be universally liked by everyone. Big fake hugs, big fake smiles, and big playoffs failures have been the most memorable moments of his career. Oh yeah – those, and his unforgettable lapse in judgment making ‘The Decision’ in front of a national television audience. But even at his low points, LeBron seemed to always think he was doing the right thing. What LeBron has never seemed to realize, is that more than anything, people just want him to be real.
Last night, as he stood there holding his ground against one of the game’s biggest bullies, LeBron was finally real. For the first time, LeBron acted as if he was the best player in the game. His subtle taunts were his way of saying, “How’s that taste, Kevin? You’re in deep shit now.” As much as Garnett probably wanted to say something in response, he simply couldn’t. Last year, the Heat thumped the Celtics in five easy games and this year looks to be no different. Stealing a page out from the Celtic’s blueprint for success, one that involves multiple superstars coming together to win a title, LeBron and Wade have seemed to take the strategy to another level. While the Big 3 of Boston were at the tail end of their primes when they joined forces, LeBron and Wade are dead-smack in the middle of theirs.
LeBron’s casual, confident roll of the eyes seemed to say many things at once- “I’m just too good for you bud, and there ain’t shit you can do about it.” “Bully me? Stop it… Scoreboard.” “You see that Kevin? That’s your window closing… and Wade and I are slamming it shut.” But most importantly, it seemed to say, “I know you’ve got your ring, but now it’s my turn.”
You see, LeBron has been the best player in the NBA for quite sometime now. That should not be forgotten simply because he lacks a championship ring. Up until last year, LeBron had some of the most ragtag supporting casts in the history of his NBA. But you ask, ‘What about last year?!?’ You mean, the first year of his career when LeBron had any sort of supporting cast, and came within two victories of a championship? Yeah, not too shabby… In the quick-fix culture that we live in today, people expect instant results – ‘Just throw superstars together and a title should pop out’. But in reality, it takes time to develop the necessary ‘chemistry and feel’ throughout championship teams. We must accept the Celtics’ 2008 title was an aberration, not the norm. Within the next week or two, the Heat will likely be making their second finals appearance in Wade and LeBron’s second season together. 2 for 2… that’s not too shabby.
But you know what is the scariest thing of all? Despite what his hairline may lead you to believe, LeBron is only 27 years old.
How many MVP’s did Michael Jordan have at age 27? One. LeBron? Three.
Finals appearances for Jordan? Zero. LeBron? Two already, and likely three.
Titles for Jordan? Zero. LeBron? Zero, but possibly one.
LeBron has been the best, and will be the best, for quite sometime. While he doesn’t necessarily need to play the role of a villain, LeBron definitely shouldn’t feel like he has to be loved by everyone. I hope someone finally told him that over the long haul, just being real will do more for his likeability than 10,000 well-calculated moments ever could. For me, last night was a long overdue start. That’s that.