With the World watching, LeBron James once again showed everybody just what a special talent he is.
His accolades, of which there are many, almost don't do him justice.
In the last 14 months, LeBron has gone from a pantomime villain to one of the most revered sportsmen on the planet. You only have to look at what he's won in that time to see just how much he's accomplished:
- 2x NBA Most Valuable Player (4th Overall).
- 2x NBA Champion.
- 2x NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
- Olympic Gold Medal (U.S National Team).
Not many players can boast that sort of success in their entire careers, James has done it in just over a year.
This latest NBA championship, may be the sweetest of all.
While his first championship got the proverbial monkey off his back, repeating the feat is an ambition few manage to achieve. Although they were considered the favourites throughout the season, Miami have struggled to assert their dominance at times in these Playoffs. Almost all of their roster has struggled at times in the postseason, either with their shot, their defensive intensity or their health.
Everyone but James.
The man known as 'The King' has dragged the Heat to consecutive championships, cementing him as one of the true greats that have ever played the game. When they have needed a big performance, he has duly stepped up and delivered. After this Playoff run, there will be no more questioning James' ability to come through in the clutch. Even though he has had unparalleled success throughout his career, there have always been lingering doubts about his ability to be a 'Closer' at the end of games. Some suggesting his decision to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was proof that James couldn't be a true leader of a team.
Those critics have now been well and truly silenced.
In the heated environment of a Game 7 to decide the NBA Finals, a situation which has seen some of the greats throughout time wilt under the pressure, LeBron was once again breathtaking. While most around him were crumbling, James kept his composure, overcoming every adversity that stood in his way.
- Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Mike Miller going SCORELESS through the whole game.
- Guarding Tony Parker for the majority of an extremely tight game.
Again, no problem.
- Playing 45 out of 48 minutes after a gruelling series.
Once again, no problem.
James takes everything in his stride these days, things that would once upset his rhythm now seem to inspire him. Like he has done consistently during this series, James took the team on his broad shoulders, going 12-of-23 from the floor for 37 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists. He also went 50 percent from three point range (5-10) and demonstrated his nerves of steel by going 8-8 from the free throw line.
We were all witnessing greatness, something we take for granted with James. Some within the game are too quick to criticise, something that he would have received plenty of during the summer, had he failed in Thursday's pivotal game. After starting 1-5, you felt things might not go his way. However, write James off at your peril, he was 11-of-18 following his poor start, making even the toughest jump shot look easy.
LeBron's defense was equally significant in his team's success. He is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the league, capable of guarding any position on the floor. When Tony Parker shredded the Heat in the first five games of this series, James took on the responsibility of guarding the smaller, quicker Parker and stifled him long enough to make a difference. Parker was just 6-of-23 in Game 6 and James smothered him even further in Game 7, holding him to 10 points off 3-of-12 shooting. When you consider how influential Parker was in the early part of the series, this decision by James was one of the deciding factors in the Heat's ability to win a Championship.
Ask any Basketball coach, they will all tell you the same thing. The hours you spend studying film are equally as important as the time you spend in the gym. James is a student of the game and he acknowledged how important the time he spent in the film room was after gaining the all-important victory. "I watched film, and my mind started to work," James said. "I said, 'OK, this is how they're going to play me for the whole series.' I looked at all my regular-season stats, and I was one of the best midrange shooters in the game. I shot a career high from the three-point line.
"I just told myself, 'Don't abandon what you've done all year. Don't abandon now because they're going under screens. Don't force the paint. If it's there, take it. If not, take the jumper.
"The repetition, the practices, the off-season training, no matter how big the stakes are, no matter what's on the line, just go with it. And I was able to do that.
A fine example to any aspiring young athletes. If you are lucky enough to reach the top of your chosen profession, you must work even harder to stay there.
Make no mistake, if James wasn't in the frightening form he displayed throughout the finals, the Heat doesn't win a Championship. In fact, it's doubtful that Miami makes the finals at all. Indiana ran the Heat just as close as the Spurs did, James scoring 32 points in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to give Miami a priceless victory. The rest of the Heat roster can breathe a sigh of relief that they had James to lean on. In general, they were far too inconsistent and having the greatest player in a generation to bail them out will paper over some of the cracks that would have been severely scrutinised had they failed at the very final hurdle.
This was everything a Game 7 should be, a truly wonderful advert for the sport of basketball. It was evenly matched throughout, Miami only pulling away in the final minute following a James steal and two clutch free throws. It was played with great competitiveness and sportsmanship, two well known traits both teams like to install into their players. San Antonio, who had come within seconds of claiming the title in Game 6, can be very proud of their efforts, especially when you consider the heartbreaking nature of their defeat in the previous encounter.
Whether the Spurs can get to this level again is debatable, they will have to rely heavily on Tony Parker going forward if they are to return for another crack next season. Tim Duncan, who was once again superb in Game 7 (24 points, 12 rebounds), will be 38 next season and his minutes will have to be managed even further if he is to be effective. Duncan has shown that their is still a few miles left on the clock and he looks set for one more year of top performances, should he stay injury-free.
Manu Ginobili's future is much more uncertain. Despite his Game 5 heroics, the Argentinian has been a shell of his former self throughout the season. There are strong rumours that Ginobili is contemplating retirement, with his ageing limbs taking far longer to shake off niggling injuries than in years gone past. On his day, there's no doubting his ability, it's just that his good days are now few and far between. He had a total of 12 turnovers in the final two games of this series, looking slow and indecisive, as if the pace of the game had now become too much for him. Ginobili will no doubt use this time away from the game to think about his future, with retirement a very plausible option for the former sixth man of the year.
If Ginobili does call it a day, they can take some comfort in the emergence of Kawhi Leonard during this series. The second-year player had been given a huge task, containing LeBron James long enough for the Spurs to take advantage. He got close to achieving this lofty goal, but you can only contain James for so long. Leonard has at least proved he can be an efficient scorer (19 points off 8-17 shooting in Game 7), while being a monster on the boards (16 rebounds) and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. The Spurs have once again found another gem in Leonard and should feel confident in building around him for the future.
That is the future, this is the now. LeBron promised championships when he came to Miami and he is a man of his word. A 'three-peat' will be an extraordinary feat, especially when you consider the improvement some teams are set to make. It's just one more obstacle for James to overcome on his path to surpassing Michael Jordan as the greatest player in the history of the game.
That may seem like an impossible task, but for the greatest sportsman on the planet, anything is possible.
It really is good to be King.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_