First of all…this is by a wide stretch the best playoff series I’ve seen. You got the feeling that every single possession mattered; and they did, despite the fact that several of the games ended in “blowouts”. Anytime the Spurs or Heat lost focus for a string of possessions in a row, the game quickly spiralled out of control, because they were both THAT good. Would the Heat have won tonight if Lebron James went 6-24? Definitely not.
And a great testament to how awesome this series was is the level of emotion and response from people who normally aren’t even big fans. I know that I would be utterly crushed as a Lebron fan if the Heat lost this series, just as Spurs fans are right now. And that’s why it was such an incredible contest.
They’ll blame Manu for his turnovers in the final game, forgetting his huge 3, assist to Leonard and incredibly difficult plays throughout, and the fact that he had a much larger impact than Parker. They’ll say they feel bad for Duncan, as well they should (and I do), but Duncan had a chance to tie this game twice, from inches away, with Battier basically a desperate observer. And they’ll probably continue to hate on Lebron.
But you couldn’t have scripted a better test of Lebron James’ skills and character. Was there EVER a time when a league MVP and the best player in the game was left a swath of open space, again and again, even in the game’s crucial moments? And even if that’s happened, or ever happens again, will it ever have the same meaning? They didn’t leave Lebron James open because he can’t shoot. They left him because they both had THAT much respect for his game on the drive, and that much belief that he might not rise to the moment. On the micro level, Lebron adjusted by taking a dribble before some of his shots, just to get in rhythm. But in the big picture, this was not a test of a basketball skill.
I don’t think any athlete has ever faced the amount of pressure that Lebron James did tonight. Pressure with noone near him, pressure that a player who can seemingly do whatever he wants on the court could do exactly what he needed when it mattered most. With legions of people hoping or expecting him to fail, with fans on his own home court ready to boo him or abandon him as they did in Game 6, with people everywhere who feast on failure for a living sharpening their knives.
Inevitably, Jordan’s name comes up, for some serving as an instinctive fallback. But forget about that. There’s no sense judging them when there’s this much of Lebron’s career left.
Just know that at some point in his career, Jordan faced the same doubts. You can’t build a champion around shooting guards and scoring champions, they said. He dazzles, but never wins, they said. But eventually, Jordan won, and redefined the possibilities of a position. An entire generation of spiritual copycats came after him, some becoming legends in their own right.
After wrestling the baton from Duncan’s hands in maybe the greatest series ever, Lebron is doing the same thing: adding new wrinkles and possibilities to the game of basketball. Somewhere out there, kids are watching a publicly flawed, unselfish superstar conquer every considerable hurdle thrown at him, and pretending to be him. And some day, when Lebron fades into legend, we’ll get to see a successor find his own way to both dominate and change the game.
But now and for the foreseeable future, that mantle belongs to – and has been earned – by the King.