We are all witnesses. The famous Nike slogan once plastered 110 feet high in the air on the side of a building in Cleveland was applicable to LeBron James performance yesterday. Anyone who watched the Miami Heat finally overcome the Boston Celtics bore witness to two major events. One was LeBron James tearing any notion that he was not clutch to shreds, the other was a new found humility and humbleness which he displayed following what will now be known as the defining moment of James career thus far.
No-one has endured more media scrutiny or had to answer so many questions in recent memory than James, and granted most of that was brought upon himself but yesterday's performance should be the closing chapter of a tumultuous twelve months that began in Connecticut with 'The Decision,' and ended with the vanquishing of his tormentors of playoffs past. It was the way with which James asserted himself during the series. It was more than just a Conference Semi-Final to him and with the exception of a quiet Game 3 James played with a steely resolve that we have not witnessed (excuse the pun) in some years, possibly since the Detroit series in 2007. James has faced criticism of his perceived inability to "close out" games. Media were quick to point to the Miami Heat's 1-18 record at the end of close games as proof that James was not clutch (even though he didn't take all 19 of those shots.)
Fast forward to the Boston series, one which James describes as personal. "You don't want to keeping getting beat by the same team, the same team keep sending you home to plan a vacation. So it is personal," said James prior to the series beginning. Throughout the series it was James who led by example, but really showed Boston he was no longer intimidated by them in Game 4, at the TD Bankworth Garden no less. It was his play that helped force an overtime and yesterday in the comforts of the American Airlines Arena he singlehandedly sapped the remaining life from a Boston team which had thrown everything it had at the Heat.
With the game tied at 87 and just over 3 minutes to play James stamped his mark onto the game. Firstly hitting a three that gave the Heat the lead at 90-87, then another that gave the home side a six point advantage and essentially iced the series. Both shots were made with Boston captain Paul Pierce waving a hand in his face, ironically Pierce was the man given the most credit for helping diminish James role in their previous battles. LeBron revelled in the moment, standing still after the second shot went down, breathing hard and staring at the crowd. Soaking in the soon to be victory. James capped off the night with a steal and a thunderous dunk and then later a running layup off the backboard. All in all he scored the last 10 Miami points to finish with 33. Who said LeBron wasn't clutch? Dwyane Wade may have kept the Heat in it up to that point but James delivered the knockout blow, possibly ending the Boston era of dominance in the East.
LeBron's talent on-court has never been questioned, the area many questioned James on was often his apparent lack of humility. He is painted as everything that is wrong with the modern athlete. Given too much, too soon. So as the final buzzer sounded and LeBron dropped to one knee with his head bowed in scenes reminiscent of Michael Jordan finally overcoming the 'Bad Boy' Pistons in '91, a rare moment of emotion. Later he would explain that he was reflecting back on the past year and the events that led him to Miami. A more mature side of LeBron James emerged. Quite different from the one who sat disconsoloate at the press conference after last year's defeat at the hands of these very Celtics. He even praised his opponent and said they were the reason he joined forces with his fellow All-Stars on South Beach. "It's a great team," James said of Boston. "Like I said, I got the utmost respect for that team. They're the reason why all three of us came together, is because of what they did, that blueprint they had in '08 when they all came together. So it's a great team win and get ready for our next opponent."
Finally after all the celebrations had ended and the players retreated back for the mandatory press conference LeBron James did something he had been unwilling to offer fans of Cleveland thus far, an apology. He apologized for the way he left the team and the city but explained why he felt the need to do so. "I apologize for the way it happened," James said. "But I knew that this opportunity was once in a lifetime. I knew deep down in my heart, as much as I loved my teammates back in Cleveland and as much as I loved home, I knew it couldn't do it by myself against that team."
In one night James debunked any myth that he couldn't deliver when his team needed him the most and went a long way to restoring some of his public persona back. For all his accomplishments in the NBA so far the scary thing is that he now gets it. James finally has the maturity and steely resolve to match his unique talents. Coincidentally it is also coming at the same time that the Miami Heat are starting to figure out just how good they are as well.