The King is finally crowned - NBC Sports

The King is finally crowned
Journey from prodigy to superstar to villain to champion leaves LeBron humbled
June 22, 2012, 11:06 am

He, after all, goes by "The King," displayed a "Chosen 1" tattoo across his back, owns a Twitter account that reads, "@KingJames."

We have seen the arrogance.

During "The Decision" and then the celebration that was equal parts hubris and pyrotechnics, when he couldn't prevent himself from forecasting championship increments even Michael Jordan could not reach.

And now? Now the humility.

To a degree, the process has worked in reverse for LeBron James. He was celebrated for what he could become. And then, when he moved closer to achieving the ultimate goal alongside a championship cast, he was ridiculed.

And now?

Not Barkley. Not Malone. Not Stockton. Not Ewing. Not Miller.

LeBron James is a champion.

No longer solely about awards or statistics. No longer a portrait of haughtiness, telling us how his life is better that ours. The very moment that rightfully could deliver conceit instead conveyed humbleness on Thursday night.

Heat 121, Thunder 106.

Miami 4, Oklahoma City 1.

". . . not two, not three, not four . . ." but the one that matters most: the first championship.

And nothing like last season against Dallas, when the fourth quarters seemingly were played in his absence.

Some will put an asterisk next to this one, especially those who weren't holding hardware when Thursday turned to Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. But inside the Heat locker room, the cloud has been lifted.

Not for Juwan Howard, the 18-year veteran who finally got his first ring, or for James Jones and Mike Miller, veterans who now will consider retirement. But for the teammate who is not a team captain but who has given his soul for this moment.

From the start of these playoffs, he wore the mouthpiece that read, "XVI," the 16 wins necessary for this moment, the extra two that were missing at this stage last season.

And then, and then he exhaled.

"It took me to go all the way to the top and then hit rock bottom basically to realize what I needed to do as a professional athlete and as a person," he said with the championship trophy to his right, Finals MVP hardware to his left.

"You know, I'm just happy that I was able to be put back in this position. I trusted my instincts, I trusted my habits that I built over the years, and I just got back to just being myself, and I didn't care too much about what anyone said about me. I just kind of made my own path, but did it the right way, and I'm happy I was able to do it the right way and do it for myself and not for anyone else."

This was raw. This was a superstar stripped of veneer.

"I told you guys over and over and over, I was playing to prove people wrong last year, and people would say I was selfish, and that got to me," he said, echoing comments he had made earlier during the public, confetti-filled celebration. "That got to me a lot because I know that this is a team game. I know the coaches that I had when I was younger always preached about team.

"A lot of people were saying I was a selfish person and a selfish player; it got to me. All last year I tried to prove people wrong, prove you guys wrong, and it wasn't me. At the end of the day, I was basically fighting against myself."

Only in defeat, in Dallas defeat, could he reassess, move forward, rise again.

"The best thing that happened to me last year was us losing the Finals, you know, and me playing the way I played. It was the best thing to ever happen to me in my career because basically I got back to the basics," he said. "It humbled me. I knew what it was going to have to take, and I was going to have to change as a basketball player, and I was going to have to change as a person to get what I wanted."

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For The King to be crowned, he had to step off his throne, throw himself into the reality that moments such as these come from places beyond within.

And that is the largely untold story of this ride to previous unreachable heights, championship heights.

He had to let part of himself go, had to reach out to others, had to be a part of others to reach what had been viewed as his birthright.

Three times during the NBA playoffs, James reached out to Hakeem Olajuwon, a two-time champion who had injected a much-needed element into LeBron's game in the offseason, a post-up element for a player whose physique practically demanded such an approach.

Because for as much as Reggie Miller at the start of these playoffs chastised James for reaching out to others instead of reaching within, those who knew, knew what this coronation would mean.

As did James himself.

"It was a journey for myself," he said. "I don't want to compare it to any other player, but it was definitely a journey. Everything that went along with me being a high school prodigy when I was 16 and on the cover of Sports Illustrated, to being drafted and having to be the face of a franchise, everything that came with it, I had to deal with and I had to learn through it. No one had went through that journey, so I had to learn on my own. All the ups and downs, everything that came along with it, I had to basically figure it out on my own."

Because he finally trusted others, allowed them into his sanctum - be it Pat Riley or Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh - this inner circle delivered the inner peace never there in Cleveland, where management and ownership kowtowed. And then he turned down, tuned out the noise.

"The biggest thing I learned is that you can't control what people say about you, what people think about you," he said. "You just have to be true to yourself and true to the people that surround you and your loved ones."

Regular-season MVP. NBA Finals MVP. But, most significantly at the end of this journey, locker-room soul mate.

"Until this season," Wade said, "when we had a group, a team meeting, and for the first time I heard LeBron James open up, and he kind of let us in on what it's like to be LeBron James. None of us really know. I said, as one of his close friends, I said, 'Wow, I don't deal with that, and I deal with a lot.'

"So to be here, man, and see him get his first championship, I'm so happy for him. I don't know if I could be happier for another guy, another man to succeed in life as I am for him. I know what he's went through to get to this point."

Thursday was LeBron's salvation. And the rest of the Big Three were more than willing to allow him to stand alone.

"I told him at one point," Bosh said, "'Being yourself is good enough, you don't have to do anything. You don't have to prove anything to anybody. Play this game the way you love, and everything will take care of itself.'"

This time, it did.

"I'm very happy right now to be a champion," LeBron said. "Nobody can take that away from me."

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

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