“I can’t worry about what everybody say about me. I’m LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio. From the inner-city. I'm not even supposed to be here…That’s enough. Every night, I walk into this locker room and I see a number six with 'James' on the back. I’m blessed, so what everybody say about me off the court don’t matter…I ain’t got no worries!”
I swear he was about to curse. Was just about to drop an epic F-bomb on the basketball universe and shut down the Internet. Not for nothing, I wish he would have done that. Would have capped the night off perfectly.
That quote will live forever. Not because it was the greatest quote ever, but because of who said it. More than that, because of when it was said; and most importantly, how it was said. James has never had a moment quite like that. He isn't known as someone who gives especially poignant quotes. He gives standard, public relation-level responses to almost everything you ask him.
But last night, right after game 7 ended, here he was at the award podium, holding that glistening ball of achievement known as the Finals MVP Award. He was elated, obviously, and let his guard down ever so briefly. He said it with conviction, with the frustration bubbling up and unable to hold it down any longer. That was him finally listening to the voices in his head. That was him clapping back at everyone who questioned his manhood every time he passed the ball instead of shooting. Talking directly to those who questioned his courage when he’d shoot a jumper instead of taking it to the hole, and to anyone who said anything disparaging about his mom and family.
The response was the sort of thing people usually do after they lose; a way to clarify your position. To qualify the moment. He let his critics know that regardless of how they judge him in his profession, he’s winning in the game of life. That he can’t be faded. The fact that he did this at the pinnacle of his success and not at a moment of failure is what makes it an all-time great moment. His signature moment. He came at them, haters and doubters alike, like a Teflon Don.
Haters everywhere are probably ironically using Vine to make one last statement video, before their Cretaceous Era hourglass runs out. If they thought last June was rough, this time around will be brutal. Criticisms come and go, but the all-out cringe-worthy hatred is gone forever. Discussions about “The Decision” had already exposed fools all the way down to the white meat. It became embarrassing to talk about it. Now, we may never hear about it again.
To be fair though, it was James and his inconsistent engagement that was still feeding these dudes.
Before the fourth quarter of Game 6, if you were rooting for the Heat, you felt bewilderment. You felt confusion and frustration. You’d try to stay calm, avoiding obvious bits of emotion. You kept telling yourself to keep your composure. Except you couldn’t. You looked at the score and saw the Heat down by 10. You looked at LeBron James and saw a walking, breathing human SMH. You didn’t know what to think, because it was unexplainable. He’s done it before and therefore, based off of last year, figured this was an easier mountain for him to climb. Didn’t this guy just get the Finals MVP last summer? Once you figure out how to win a championship, or really, anything in life, the next time you attempt it should be easier, right?
So why wasn’t it? At that point, LeBron was playing solid, but unspectacular. In the Finals, that’s just not good enough. He needed to be on some Kal-El ish; instead, he’s out here playing like he doesn’t know he can fly. The first stupid thing you think is that this is unprecedented, that in the history of organized sports, what you are seeing has never happened before. As the minutes start passing, you start to steel yourself on the inevitability of a rough summer, where you’re gonna have to take a bullet for this guy. That when LeBron James looks in the mirror after the game, he’s gonna see Peyton Manning staring back at him. That blows.
And then, boom, he turned on the switch and played that Game 6 fourth quarter, and then OT, and then Game 7. Thursday night, he dropped 37 points (on 12-23, with five three-pointers made), 12 rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He also locked down Tony Parker and had him looking like Jesse Williams all night. He didn’t need to turn on any switch in the next game, because he never turned it off from the previous one, and 48 minutes later, he was the MVP again and reminding the world of where he’s from.
The question with James has always been: Why does he make it so difficult on himself? Why can’t he harness this often enough? If he played like he played in Game 7 all series long, the Finals would have ended last week.
The answer is: Who knows? He’s a human and he’s flawed. That’s it, really. That’s as good an answer as we’re gonna get. When you earn a back-to-back regular season MVP, and couple that with a back-to-back Finals MVP (he joins Bill Russell and MJ as the only players to ever accomplish that), you don’t have to answer any more questions. You are immune to that next-level criticism now. They are never gonna eat off of your plate again. The emotion on his face while accepting the MVP Award made it clear that he knows that he accomplished something major. He’s been carrying this burden on his back like an anvil. All the questions about his legacy, and whether his move to Miami will be judged as successful or not, are all moot points now. No, last year was not a fluke. He was already top 15 all-time and had he lost to the Spurs, he wouldn’t have dropped from that spot. You can only be pushed out by someone else; you can’t fall out of it on your own. But, now, since he won? Well, we can go ahead and put him in that top 10.
He may never win as many titles as Jordan or Kobe; he doesn’t have that basketball OCD that they have. Maybe the hunger will wane after another two rings or so. Who knows; none of it matters now anyway. From this point forward, everything changes. The coronation came a little late, but for James, it’s right on time.