Published June 22, 2012
| Sports Network
If you think about it LeBron James was criticized for leaving Cleveland because he wasn't selfish enough.
A popular refrain among James' detractors was that the three-time MVP didn't want to be Batman, he didn't want to be Michael Jordan. The superstar desired to be Scottie Pippen to Dwyane Wade's Jordan in South Beach.
Label James however you want now but it must include the tag line champion after the superstar deposited 26 points, dished out 13 assists and grabbed 11 rebounds for a triple-double Thursday night as his Miami Heat routed the Oklahoma City Thunder, 121-106, in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals.
The Finals MVP trophy, named for Bill Russell, was just icing on the cake for James, who finally captured his first NBA title after averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.2 assists in the series.
"It's about damn time. It's about damn time," he said.
Nothing against Pippen but comparing the best basketball player on the planet to the best role player of any generation is more than a slap in the face. Meanwhile, expecting James to defer to Wade or buying the narrative that D- Wade stepped aside so LeBron could take over the Heat is equally as comical.
We all need help at times and asking for it shouldn't be a sign of weakness, even in sports.
Ignore what the revisionist historians tell you. All the greats lionized over the years had plenty of help.
Russell, the game's "ultimate winner", played alongside a gaggle of Hall of Famers. Jordan had the league's best perimeter defender in Pippen and later the best rebounder in Dennis Rodman. Magic Johnson never won without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Larry Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish, while more recently Kobe Bryant needed Shaquille O'Neal until Pau Gasol came along, and Shaq needed D-Wade post-Kobe.
Heck, on my way back from Miami, I asked for a ride from the airport rather than take an endless series of cabs and shuttle buses. That's asking for help and forgive me for that indiscretion.
James needed Wade and Chris Bosh, but they needed him a heck of a lot more.
Hindsight allows us to see that LeBron was never going to win without a solid supporting cast but some of the aid he received in the NBA Finals sure came from some rather unlikely sources.
Wade and Bosh definitely did their part but who expected Shane Battier to morph into a Kyle Korver that plays defense in Game 2? Or how about Norris Cole sporting the Big Daddy Kane flat-top for Game 4 and promptly scoring eight points in seven minutes.
In that same contest, everyone's favorite whipping boy in Miami, Mario Chalmers, netted 12 points in the final frame while in the Game 5 clincher, Mike Miller took some time off from warming the end of the bench to play "Uncle Drew" for the night, nailing a ridiculous 7-of-8 3-pointers (he just gets buckets).
Conversely, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook's supporting players never showed up. James Harden was a disappointment while Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha couldn't even reach that threshold.
As for the critics who took aim at James because he was too arrogant or because he became a shrinking violet in big situations during last year's finals loss to Dallas, they were really contradicting themselves by magnifying one of his greatest attributes -- selflessness.
"It took me to go all the way to the top and then hit rock bottom to realize what I needed to do as a professional athlete and a person," James said of last year's setback. "I just kind of made my own path."
James is not Jordan and he's not Kobe. He's far closer to a Magic-like player albeit with far more skill and a greater defensive acumen.
LeBron is quite simply one of the most unselfish superstars who has ever lived. He will take the big shot but he doesn't need to. He's just as happy facilitating for his teammates. At the other end, you just watched a postseason in which James played four different positions at an elite level. In fact, over the past two years in the playoffs you have seen James check players as diverse as Lou Williams, David West, Kevin Garnett and Kevin Durant. That's never been done before.
"I'm not one for giving guys credit during the series, but it's over," said Durant. "That guy is an incredible player."
He even gave his haters something to cling to. After all James did end up "choking" ... at being a "choker."
"It means everything," James said of his first championship. "I made a difficult decision to leave Cleveland but I understood what my future was about ... I knew we had a bright future (in Miami). This is a dream come true for me. This is definitely when it pays off."