The LeBron James Haters Association would like to announce it is disbanding. There will be a going-out-of-business sale on old cardboard signs that no longer are usable, the ones that read “LeChoke!” and reference fourth-quarter failures. One stubborn outpost of the group remains, but that Cleveland chapter has seen such a sharp drop in members and enthusiasm that it no longer can afford rent for meeting space and will be merging with the Flat Earth Society.
The extreme makeover is almost complete. Two victories away.
For LeBron and the Miami Heat, two summers ago and the national animus it caused are fading by degrees, replaced not just by a success that is vindicating the whole idea of the Big 3, but by a work ethic and businesslike humility that are making life a lot harder for the straggling, stubborn haters who remain.
Forget what first made “LeBron” and “Miami” expletives to basketball fans – The Decision by James, the arena celebration that followed, the presumptiveness in the dynasty talk. It is time to let those things go and move on, isn’t it? And anyone who is able to wipe that slate clean and judge by only what they are seeing now might arrive at a rather startling conclusion:
This Heat team has earned your admiration. This is more than an easy team to appreciate; it has become an easy team to like. And all of that starts with James, who has evolved and seen his reputation follow.
In the summer of 2010 he was the blindly unaware, towering ego who put himself in the middle of a national free-agency circus, callously walking out on his hometown team – or so his reputation formed.
In the summer of 2011 James, still vilified for the above, failed for the first time with a basketball in his hands, inexplicably and mysteriously withering late in games as Miami lost to Dallas in the NBA Finals. The villain was a choker now, too – or so his reputation hardened.
Now, in the summer of 2012, James has been a combination of two things that might seem at odds but are not: The very best there is, and sacrificing humbly in a way that is disarming even his noisiest critics.
What Heat fans have known since around midseason is an epiphany this week to many in the national media – that this is LeBron’s team now, handed to him by Dwyane Wade’s own acknowledgement. We have seen it in this postseason, and in the Finals Miami leads 2-1 over Oklahoma City entering Game 4 here Tuesday night.
We even saw it Sunday night, with who had the ball in the telling final moments.
Yet, invited Monday to elaborate on it being “his” team now, he deferred, began with “I’m not the only leader on this team.” Talked about his teammates.
James called experience “the best teacher that you have in life.” He meant the motivation that came from losing last year’s Finals and how this Miami squad is better prepared to win. But he might also have meant his own lessons learned.
The team is his now and his 31-point playoff scoring average is carrying it, yet James is sacrificing even as his offensive role grows. He refashioned his game in the injury-absence of Chris Bosh, willingly doing more of the grunt and grind work, taking on more of the bruises.
“I had to change my mindset,” James said Monday. “I had to rebound more, attack more, get in the paint more to make up the difference. It’s kind of stayed that way since [Bosh’s return].”