This is as redundant as it is obvious: LeBron James is the most valuable basketball player running and jumping and dribbling atop this globe. There will be a ceremony to commemorate this Monday, but this MVP is anticlimactic as a formal announcement, calling everyone together to tell them something they already know. Hear ye, hear ye over here ye, we’re going to gather around to remind the king that he is a king. More interesting than this ceremony is the forgetful way we arrived at it, and how we did so with forgiveness and appreciation, no less.
It is funny, looking back now. Wasn’t that long ago that a tough, humble basketball player became an enormous fan favorite at least in part because he allegedly represented everything James didn’t. No shortcuts for him. No ego. No nonsense. The media even gave that popular player an MVP trophy that should have instead gone to the disgraced James, one of the few ever awarded to one man out of spite for another. This fan favorite, of course, was Derrick Rose, who has since found that goodwill to be fleeting in the face of losing and injury and shooting 6 percent in the fourth quarter of a playoff series when James happened to be guarding him.
This proves that popularity is never as enduring as greatness. Neither is health, for that matter. But it also reveals that history can always be viewed more clearly with the perspective of tomorrow than with the emotion of today. James made the right Decision. That has never been more obvious than it is now. Proof of that is not merely in one championship or a second MVP trophy in Miami but in the mouth of Derrick Rose’s own brother Reggie, who looks out into the future and complains that the Bulls must get his sibling more help. Reggie would not feel this way if not for the obstructed view of the championship James has created by planting himself right in front of that family Rose garden.
The math of sports is forever in the loud critic’s favor. It is really hard to win the very last game of any season, and only one team can do it, so that produces many more players and coaches who can be dismissed as losers every year. James felt the unfairness of this for a long time in a cold Cleveland, so he rigged the odds of this particular game in his favor by teaming with other stars in a warmer Miami, and this was met with howling accusations about shortcuts and a legacy burning just as surely as his Cavaliers jerseys.
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But for all the angry noise that brought, it is fascinating now to hear James praised so much as the feces storm he once endured rumbles off in the distance to swallow Rose and Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony — players who will be losers at least in part because of what James built in their path amid all that howling. Gone somehow is the wailing about the unfairness of James getting all that help, ironically replaced by Rose not having enough help and Durant having lost his help and Howard teaming with the wrong help and Anthony not sharing with his help.
James is about to win his fourth MVP award after saying his first season here that his days of winning MVPs were over. He figured he’d no longer be winning any MVPs because of the unpopular path he’d taken to join a lopsided team with other stars. But he has won not one but two since. As many in three seasons here, in other words, as he won in seven seasons in Cleveland. That tectonic shift in isn’t explained by merely winning, either, believe it or not. No, losing has just as much to do with it.
If it had indeed been as easy as these Miami players thought it would be when they were dancing around on that introductory stage — “Not easy but easier,” Chris Bosh clarifies now — this probably doesn’t shake out this way. If Miami had had this 66-win season in James’ first one here, this one couldn’t and wouldn’t have looked like growth, like work that could be admired, but rather as that greedy shortcut. Because it was so hard that first year, because Bosh collapsed in a hallway after losing to Dallas, we all realized together that you can’t just merge stars into an insta-champion — which is how what the Heat did this season was somehow viewed as amazing even though it is absurd how much talent is on this team.
Erick Dampier, Eddie House and Carlos Arroyo of 2010 have been replaced by Chris Andersen, Ray Allen and Shane Battier. Pat Riley has stumbled upon a big man who can finish at the rim in Andersen after auditioning a bunch of Eddy Currys and Ronny Turiafs and even a guy nicknamed Jorts after jean shorts. So Miami is 41-2 in its past 43 games and now some poor team must figure out how to beat the Heat four times in seven tries. But we first had to witness it being hard to develop an appreciation for it being easy. And to somehow forget that James has assembled an unfair team full of discounted ringers.
All that howling from three years ago — about James ruining his legacy, taking shortcuts and settling for becoming Scottie Pippen — is either laughable, forgotten or wrong now. But that’s not even the most recent bout of dumb criticism when it comes to James. It was less than one year ago — and this seems remarkable in retrospect — that the guy who will hold up his fourth MVP trophy Monday in sunny Miami was loudly being labeled as a frail choker who wasn’t tough enough to get all the things he desired.
So, with the clarity of retrospect, this seems about as redundant as Monday’s ceremony: