How LeBron went from villian to hero
by Shaun Powell, Sports on Earth
No athlete in 2012 hogged the honors quite like LeBron James did: MVP, champion, Finals MVP, gold medalist, Most Improved Person. In a curious twist of fate, he found himself being applauded for being greedy and selfish.
He went from reviled to revered almost as fast as his hairline faded. Really, did anyone in any other sport pull this off this year, or in recent history? It forces you to think hard, doesn’t it? Usually when athletes Go Bad, they’re rarely given the chance to Go Good, and even then the disconnection isn’t as great for others as it was for LeBron. In a span of two years, which were exhaustively chronicled in the age of social media, he went from one extreme to the other, or to put it in political terms in this election year, from Limbaugh to Obama.
In the process, he delivered some of the most amazing tip-to-buzzer basketball we haven’t seen by one person since Jordan, and if the Kobe lovers are firing off nasty emails as they read this, please don’t embarrass yourself by disagreeing. Kobe never played defense like this and definitely never passed the ball like this. LeBron’s all-around game in ’12, in the NBA and the Olympics, was historic.
Yes, it was sheer dominance by a player bent on redemption, a player who did everything he could to will his way back into your cold heart. That meant swallowing his ego and arrogance, no easy task there, and above all else, winning. Because winning really does wipe the memory bank clean and make folks develop amnesia. Even Cleveland doesn’t boo anymore. Well, not as profanely.
The defining moment of a defining season was not the night he won his first championship, or the day he kissed Olympic gold. Those were the events that history will promote, and history will be wrong. The night that made all others possible was June 7, a game-changer for LeBron. He and the Heat were 48 minutes from playoff elimination and almost certain ridicule, much of it ready to be dumped on LeBron with glee. The labels were being affixed — choker, loser, artificial superstar — all ready to be regurgitated.
The place was Boston and the setting the Eastern Conference finals, and how’s that for a neat coincidence? Just two years earlier, against these same Celtics in the postseason, that’s when the steep fall began for him. He was with the Cavaliers then, and maybe his mind was somewhere else. It certainly wasn’t in that playoff series. He shot three-for-14 and looked disinterested doing so in Game 5. The Cavs, winners of 61 games during the season and LeBron the MVP, eventually went out meekly, like their star. Then he was unapologetic about it and seemed to think it was no big deal.