Saturday, June 23, 2012

Lebron's greatness finally rewarded

One of the reason I love sports is to see when athletic greatness plus hard work ultimately becomes rewarded with championship status.  Lebron is a player the likes of which I've never seen before.  I know there have been triple double monsters of the past, like Oscar Robertson, but Lebron is the most unique player of the modern age.  He can score like Jordan, but possesses the vision like Magic, and wields the interior strength of Barkley.

Since Jordan's reign (6 titles, 5 regular season MVPs - AP gave Karl Malone 2 of Jordan's MVPs because they felt sorry for him,6 Finals MVPs), there have only been a handful of great players who have emerged.  Greatness will be measured here as one who has won a regular season MVP and a Finals MVP (NBA title obviously).

Duncan has his 4 titles, 2 regular season MVPs, and 3 Finals MVPs and will be regarded as the best PF to ever play the game.  Shaq was easily the most physically dominant center of the last decade and a half, and really should be embarrassed that he only won 3 titles as the lead star.  He only won 1 regular season MVP - an indictment more than an honor but had 3 Finals MVPs.  Kobe worked hard to become the best Jordan clone but currently has only 2 titles as the lead star, just 1 regular season MVP and 2 Finals MVPs.  Nowitzki has 1 regular season MVP, although it was 4 seasons before he won his Finals MVP and title.  And now we have Lebron who finally has his title, a Finals MVP to go along with his 3 regular season MVPs.  Heck, just for kicks, I'm looking up the multiple MVP and Finals MVP winners.

Players in history with more than 1 regular season MVP (starting in '56) include:
Lew Alcindor (6)
Michael Jordan (5)
Bill Russell (5)
Wilt Chamberlain (4)
Larry Bird (3)
Lebron James (3)
Magic Johnson (3)
Moses Malone (3)
Tim Duncan (2)
Karl Malone (2)
Steve Nash (2)
Bob Pettit (2)

Alcindor ("Kareem", for you non-Bruin fans) won 6 MVPs, but only 3 as a Laker and only 1 Finals MVP as a Laker.  Amazingly, even though he helped bring 5 championships to LA, Jerry West (just 1 title) got his statue outside of Staples before Kareem has.

Players with more than 1 Finals MVP (which was not awarded until '69) include:
Michael Jordan (6)
Tim Duncan (3)
Magic Johnson (3)
Shaquille O'Neal (3)
Lew Alcindor (2)
Larry Bird (2)
Kobe Bryant (2)
Hakeem Olajuwon (2)
Willis Reed (2)

Seeing that there was a 14 year gap between the two awards, Bill Russell, having accumulated 11 titles and 5 regular season MVP awards, would certainly have won the lion's share of Finals MVP awards.  After him, Jordan is far and away the best player.  Shaq may have won his Finals MVPs back to back to back, but Jordan accomplished that feat, TWICE.

All that to say, Lebron has the potential and is in position to join the Russell, Chamberlain, Alcindor, Bird/Magic, and Jordan party.

Last season at this time, the world doubted if Lebron would ever even win championship.  He had taken what seemed to be the easier route and joined another superstar, who had already won a championship as the lead star.  After losing the '11 Finals, it seemed that he would psychologically crumble, literally passively pass on responsibility in crunchtime and maddeningly quit when everything was on the line.  I remembered the 2010 Cavs-Celtics series, when tied 2-2, Game 5 at home, and he turned in a shockingly listless 15 point performance.  In the most critical game of the year, it was as if he gave up and wanted out of town.  Those back-to-back failures, in addition to the foolish "Decision" and pyrotechnic South Beach intro, had the potential to define him as the biggest disappointment the NBA had ever seen.

Then in the past offseason, Lebron re-committed himself.  He added a post game to his repertoire, a facet that very well could make him unstoppable.  And, as he stated himself, he started again to play with joy (something that Kobe has never exuded), not with hate (which was still an understandable reaction to the vitriol he was receiving).  I appreciate that he repeatedly said that he had to learn humility after last season.

There were two critical points in this season's playoffs that would've defined Lebron one way or another.
1) After going down 2-1 to the Pacers and in Indiana for game 4, Lebron exploded for 40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists to win.  40 points is nice, but EIGHTEEN boards is commitment.  They rolled off 2 straight W's to clinch.
2) The Heat were down 3-2 to the Celtics, facing elimination, in Boston, and Lebron went off for 45 points (19-26 shooting, 73%) and 15 boards.  He then played 47:32 minutes in the game 7 closeout to finally overcome his 2010 nemesis.

In the finals, he averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, including a championship clinching game 5 triple double.  There is no doubt that the Heat are now his team.  He ain't Pippen, Wade is.  (Wade better recognize this and not sabotage what they have going here for the sake of his own ego.)  Lebron's also got selfless pieces around him like Battier, who contributed exactly what Heat role players are brought in for - brilliant defense and timely 3 pointers.

We are hopefully at the inception of NBA championship greatness.  I'm talking about more than just a couple championships (like Kobe).  The fact that he's labored for 9 seasons before finally tasting glory means that perhaps he has the maturity and hunger to win more.  I'm hoping we see a career that finishes with at least 4-5 championships/Finals MVPs and at least 5-6 regular season MVPs.  But for now, at least Lebron's beginning to live up to the greatness we glimpsed at in that monstrous 48 point playoff performance in the 2007 double OT game vs Detroit, where he scored the Cavs' last 25 points.  We've waited a long time for the next Jordan...

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