The Chosen One vs. The Inferior One (Part 3)
Before LeBron even arrived in Miami, the basketball world was abuzz. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, man. It was fucking insane. People who didn’t know a lick about basketball were ripping this guy to shreds, jerseys were burnt, commercial responses were created and so on and so forth. Remember this one?
Cleveland was fuming and in one television special (which was all about the charity, right?), LeBron James went from the most popular and adored person in the state of Ohio, to the most loathed…by far. It wasn’t even close. However, it seemed like the basketball world seemed to take less notice, as the professionals understood the business aspect behind James’ decision. Sure, they might not have agreed with the manner in which it was carried out, but it wasn’t their city he was leaving. Now, some of the old-school guys probably lost a lot of respect for him, but nothing really came out publicly during that summer. Then, all hell broke loose, when the worst pep rally in modern sports history was scheduled down in South Beach. I’m not sure how this is still even up on YouTube…
“We gon’ make the world know, not just this league, we gon’ make the world know, that the Heat is back.” — Lebron James
Re-watching this, it’s actually worse than I remember. This made The Decision look like a frickin’ G-rated Disney flick compared to the R-Rated Hollywood production that was the Miami Heat Welcome Party. But you see, after “Not one, not two, not three,” the NBA took notice, and guys weren’t playing around any more. If I were in the league (hahaha), but seriously, if I were a professional in the National Basketball Association, I’d be in the gym 15 hours a day, preparing for the Miami Heat. If you’re a competitor, how could you not be licking your chops? Two guys with no titles join a premier player in his town, on his team, for the sole purpose of winning NBA Championships. That’s one thing. But, to then hold a pep rally talking about how easy it was going to be and that the world should take notice? The line had been crossed. The “King” without a crown had declared war on the rest of the league, and things couldn’t have started any worse.
When SportsCenter slowly stopped becoming a funny highlight reel of sports and creative anchors, the formation of the Miami Heat only helped make matters worse. Now, more of a talk show, it became the Miami Heat Hour, and weeks after the world was supposed to take notice, things like this started happening:
So, as you can imagine, the rest of the players in the league couldn’t have been happier, Cleveland fans were jumping with joy, and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh couldn’t believe what was happening. These guys were supposed to break the Chicago Bulls 72-win record, but early chemistry was a problem and two guys who were used to being the man, had to figure out a way to co-exist with one another.
As the season progressed, the Heat started to figure things out and it became clear that they were the favorites to win the NBA title. The highlights between LeBron and Wade were out of this world, and the Heat became the team to hate. LeBron became the villain, something I never saw coming (but wish he would have embraced more), and the NBA had truly changed, forever.
So, then what? Well, the Heat eventually advanced to The Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, a team they had come back to beat back in the 2006 NBA Finals. An absolutely haunting loss for Dirk Nowitzki, the former MVP was counted out for the rest of his career, often labeled as “one of the best to never win a title.”
Five years later, Dirk was back, but the Heat proved too much early on in the series. However, everything changed in game four, with the Heat leading the series 2–1 with a chance to inch even closer to that coveted title. The Mavericks refused to quit and after the Heat took the lead late in the game, LeBron and Wade could be seen doing one of their signature handshakes to celebrate their big lead.
I’ll never forget watching it in my basement. It was like the celebration happened in slow-motion, and the rest of the Mavericks’ players couldn’t help but take notice. They were beyond pissed off; they were seething. Whenever anyone brings up that Finals, I always mention the handshake as a major factor in deciding the final outcome. Sometimes, it just takes something small to set off a team and kick them back into gear. Well, similar to the Miami Heat Welcome Party that began the season, the handshake seemed to have that same type of effect. You think you’re better than us? We’ll show you. And, the Mavericks did just that, by defeating the Miami Heat in six games to give Dirk Nowitzki his first NBA title that he rightfully deserved.
So, after the extreme disappointment and failure (yes, getting to The Finals and losing after a pep rally with smoke and fire is a failure) that was the 2011 season, it felt like “The Chosen One” really wasn’t all that chosen after all. With some post-game comments that will live on in infamy (your life sucks, I’m rich and awesome), no one quite knew what to make of LeBron James. For me personally, I couldn’t believe my eyes, or ears. How could things have taken such a turn for the worse? Did LeBron really care about the team? Did he really care about anything? My life is pretty cool, man. I don’t need you ripping my lifestyle on national television. You know what I mean?
The following season, however, was a completely different story. James spent the offseason in hiding, and when news broke that he was working out with Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, people realized that LeBron wasn’t messing around. He had never played in the post like Olajuwon before, but he had still never gotten that title, and it was time to finally take care of business.
With a performance (40 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists) for the absolute ages against the Indiana Pacers (a rivalry I will forever miss) in the 2012 playoffs, this was a different LeBron, one that I couldn’t ever remember seeing in Cleveland. Then, with the Heat down to an elimination game in Boston, the same city that James had played his last game in a Cleveland uniform, LeBron cemented his legacy. An overused term, yes, but with 45 points and 15 rebounds, and a terrifying look on his face that commanded a win, the Miami Heat would eventually go on to beat Boston that evening.
Advancing past the Celtics was monumental, but defeating them in that manner, I sensed that LeBron had finally proved everyone wrong this time around. He was the coldblooded killer his critics had been waiting for, and when I go back and watch the highlights of that game, his play was on a completely different level. He was hitting tough shots, making the extra pass, going to the free throw line, shooting an extremely high percentage from the field, and breaking down the Celtics for the remainder of the series. There was no question about it: Miami was going to take Game 7 and move on to play the winner of the Western Conference for the NBA Championship. They did just that, and took one more title the following season (against the Spurs) before an absolute dismantling loss at the hands of revenge, and the San Antonio Spurs just a year later in the 2014 NBA Finals.
If you happened to catch any of that Finals, you learned two things. Or, better yet, you had two questions: Would the Heat have had a chance had LeBron not cramped up in Game One? Probably not. And, two, was LeBron going to leave Miami after their second Finals loss in four seasons? It seemed hard to believe, and when watching that Finals, it was pretty obvious that ball movement had become the coveted style of play in the NBA that season. I’ve never seen a team execute and move the ball like that. Not even the 50–5 Warriors, and I’m not even trying to stir the pot here. The Spurs moved the ball that well and embarrassed Miami in what would turn out to be their last year playing together.
As the summer continued, rumors spread and the basketball world was abuzz with LeBron James headlines once again. Somehow, some way, LeBron decided to make his way back to Cleveland for his homecoming tour. What once seemed impossible a few years prior was happening again, and it felt as if some of the haters had even let their guard down on this one. Would Cleveland fans forgive him? Could the Cavs become a legitimate contender? Did LeBron leave because the Heat lost in The Finals? Was LeBron coming home to right his wrongs, or did he understand that the core in Cleveland might be a much better team than the future Miami Heat? I have answers for all of those questions, but that is neither here nor there.
Before making his homecoming tour and helping Cleveland advance to their first Finals since 2007, and James’ fifth NBA Finals in as many seasons, another player on the other side of the country was really beginning to blossom.
Blessed with a babyface, a handle for the ages, a chip on his shoulder(s) and an absolute adoration for the game of basketball, a guy by the name of Stephen Curry was beginning to take form, and the fans were beginning to take notice.
Listed at 6' 3", Stephen Curry is not LeBron James. He’s nothing like him. His game, his story, his style of play; they’re all quite the opposite of The King. Never heralded out of high school, Stephen Curry was the guy you played during pickup games that no one had a feel for in the entire gym.
Who’s this skinny dude? Can he hoop? He laughs a lot on the court. He’s kind of cocky, but I feel like I want him on my team. Should we pick him?
Well, as everyone came to figure out, the answer was a resounding yes. You should definitely pick him, because The Inferior One is here to stay, and the rest of the league is well aware that there is a new Sheriff in town. After watching him play just one full game in last year’s Finals, I already knew, the NBA would never be the same again.
To Be Continued…