The Heat has weathered the nasty taunts. They survived Bosh’s nine-game absence. Wade is sore but re-energized. Mike Miller, held together by tape and staples, has hit key shots. Shane Battier has stepped up. Mario Chalmers came through. James is relaxed.
“I’m just more comfortable. This is my third crack at it,” James said. “The greatest teacher you can have in life is experience. I’ve experienced some things in my long but short career.”
Long but short. He looks older than 27. He seems older because he has been a star for half his life.
But consider that James was born to a teenaged mother. He grew up in the phenom’s cocoon. He never went to college. At 18, he entered the unreal world of the NBA, where you fly on private jets, throw your sweaty towels on the floor.
James’ body grew and grew. But what about his mind?
Constantly surrounded by sycophants, leeches and his own entourage, James never really had a chance for self-examination.
Until 2010. Until his presentation of The Decision — grandiose and insensitive — backfired. Until The Prediction (of not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven … championships) was mocked.
He underestimated the maliciousness of ill will that would pound him, like an avalanche, the past two years.
In the 2011 Finals, the cumulative force deflated him. He did not recognize himself. He was the king who cowered.
But, in that crucible, James grew up.
During a summer of reassessment, alone with his doubts, James looked inside himself with a monk’s thoroughness. He found what he had lost.
A different James
At the 2012 Finals, we see James, the man — honest, self-aware and unencumbered by criticism. He has grown up.
Last year, James said he even imagined there were extra spectators in the Dallas arena, watching him; extra media, questioning him. The Game 6 collapse was all but inevitable. And a necessary lesson, his predecessors would say.
“I was very hurt that I let my teammates down, and I was very immature,” James said Wednesday. “Last year I played to prove people wrong instead of just playing my game, instead of going out and having fun.”
James has been trying to win an NBA title for nine seasons.
The pain and suffering could end Thursday. If it does, the trophy will feel as light as air.