Very little defiance leaked out of LeBron James after winning last year. The closest he came was tweeting out a photo of himself holding up a Slam Magazine cover that read, Hi Haters. But hes already feeling a bit more self-satisfied, as evidenced by that look he had on stage holding both the championship trophy and the one given for Finals MVP, arms spread wide, asking everyone to drink him in. He earned that moment respect not given but rather taken and it is really the first like this that weve seen from him. This wasnt the giddy kid jumping up and down on the sideline like last year, delighted and awed and surprised; this was a man who had grown into the size of this moment and expected it, taking what he had earned, knowing it rightly belonged to him. His confidence, like this relationship, is growing. Year 2 was a guy lost in the woods who was happy to survive and be alive; Year 3 was a hunter going into the jungle looking for meat as the top of the food chain.
And he spoke for South Florida with that look as he held both trophies, too. Look at us now. All of you who laughed and mocked and doubted. How you like me now?
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are famously competition-jerks, and we love them for it anyway because it is a sign of desire, their jerkiness rationalized away as assassin-ness, a cold-blooded ferocity needed to win. James has never been that. He might be the most unselfish superstar in the history of the game, happier by his own admission when hes setting a teammate up than when he scores himself. He doesnt need to be a cutthroat jerk to beat you. But that smug self-satisfaction on stage, holding both those trophies, he looked like a man who can get used to this with greed and gluttony. He talked about humility. He said he was blessed. But he allowed himself one little moment, arms spread wide, trophies in both hands, to tell the America that was rooting against him to go ahead and eat it.
Jordan said his fourth championship was his favorite, not his first, because he had just lost his father and returned from baseball. Bryant said his fourth was his favorite, not his first, because it was the first he had won without needing ONeals help. Given the way James is behaving on social media, sending out videos of himself kissing the trophy like a child returning after being lost, giggling about being a two-time champion, this one is looking his favorite right now. It was won against such a mighty opponent, and looked so close to being lost, and the blueprint felt like it was in the balance again.
Crazy when you think about it, but everything came down to one last quarter, the fourth of Game 7. Miami started it up by a single point. At that moment, Miami was 1-1 in two years since his validated Decision, and that quarter was the tipping point of the tipping point. And now there is joy and relief and the feeling that this is an avalanche that is just getting started with a rumble. James knows how good he is, and that hes chasing not peers or contemporaries but history and immortals. He knows he is the best, and he held that proof in both hands on that stage, hands full of golden treasures, looking very much like a satisfied King who had just conquered.
Thats another reason this championship feels better than the one that preceded it.
The first one silenced many of the critics for a while.
But the second one silenced all the rest and for good.