Thursday, May 12, 2011

James Leads the Way, Finally Earns Retribution Over Celtics

King James comes to mind, as the most disdained athlete in sports. He is, without question, a villain worldwide, except in South Beach where he is the beloved icon whom the folks in Miami adore by embracing, pampering and rooting for him even if he hijacked television for an hour to televise "The Decision," his callous reality show -- even if he was disloyal and betrayed his native homeland when he departed abruptly.

You think he's a selfish nitwit, not King James, not even the replica of Michael Jordan. You think he's Prince James. But with enough evidence in the postseason where he's proven to be a valuable star, it's clear James has risen in Miami and respectively has repaired his image. He was almost close to becoming the prima donna of the NBA, after all the deceptiveness in Cleveland, after all the frolic mind games by holding owner Dan Gilbert -- the fans and his former teams hostage and after all the drama last summer that elicited enemies.

Sports aren't fun without a villain, mind you, someone who can irritate the souls of causal fans, someone who can stand as a nuisance in America with his arrogance and enormous ego trip to hear endless boos more than cheers. He'll always be the most underappreciated player globally for selfishly and wrongly leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, a supreme franchise in which James uplifted a bleak town and released the painful indignities from the ugliest burdens once the Cavs suddenly reached a peek to elevate into contention.

And all the time he was there, however, he never prevailed to lead the Cavs to an NBA championship, including the meaningful matchups in surpassing Boston, the one opponent who'd delay his pursuit of mastering his first NBA title. Where he seems to earn his plaudits, ever since he decided to migrate to Miami in one of the most bizarre transitions in history that formed perhaps the greatest trio all-time, he has finally stood up to the Celtics, not intimidated or subjugated by the aging, inert contenders in the East. After a night when he fought off his problematic antagonist who has been debilitated ever since Boston floor general Rajon Rondo became inefficient because of an injury, and then the white towels swung skyward at American Airlines Arena, celebrating a triumphant 97-87 victory over the Celtics and clinching the series 4-1, James dropped on one knee and hit the floor lightly.

Is this revenge?? In my view, he avenged a dreadful series of woes that mirrored a sob story each time he would faced the Celtics in the playoffs. Truth be told, the average person is looking for an excuse, whether he knocked off his nemesis in the past and led the Heat when the aging, injured Celtics era had come to an end, to denounce and ridicule James amid the entire backlash. For once and for all, he felt triumph. For once and for all, he is revered as a superstar in one town, if nowhere else.

It was merely a year ago, falling to the Celtics in an upsetting blow during his sensational pursuit in a Cavs uniform, when he left an entire town in anger and dampened the community where there never was a well-known sporting celebrity around that no one could idolize. Suddenly, he is a pariah in his native state rather than an appreciated star for a town that wholeheartedly became attached and had admired the iconic figure when he brightened the landscape in a depressed environment, until his free-agency drama unleashed his true colors, a deranged summer where he planned his absurd stunt to announce that he'll be joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach.

Where he lost much regards, at least among the populace, was when he publicly humiliated the Cavs with his self-centered, egotistical spectacle on television. He is so much at peace in South Beach, beloved and glorified by the supporters, that he is hard-driven and fixated on earning his first ever title. When he carelessly turned on Cleveland, to some, he deferred his claim to all time greatness and surrendered the likelihood of mounting into the elite ballplayer in the game.

There comes a point when it's time to forge a statement, and James vindicated that he can beat Boston after all. There comes a point when it's time to stand as a team leader and measure up to the hype, when it's time for redemption, contributing largely alongside two stars he joined in hopes of a title. From villain to hero, he is now the savior, a likable specimen after he was a primary factor in dispatching the gritty Celtics. Now, he was successful and fulfilled his biggest achievement in the greatest game of his career, teaming with Wade and Bosh that resembles Crockett and Tubbs, the coolest tandem from the hit television show Miami Vice in the '80s.

But in this generation, as maybe it should've been observed last summer, it is clearly James and Wade, a pair of ballplayers with the national spotlight. With the notion of the stakes immensely, approaching each game in the series with a relentless mentality, James was steadfast and strong-willed in defeating the Celtics. And now, he is the flamboyant commodity who has shifted the mood and, in part, cultivated the Heat as the franchise polished in the postseason.

If the Heat suffers defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals, now that Miami awaits the winner between the Atlanta vs. Chicago series, it was considered a success for James when he definitely led a team passed the Celtics. This is where, at last, he can put a year worth of fiascoes, blunders and criticism behind him. This is where he waved goodbye to the Celtics, weary of his failures in the past in which he proved all his doubters wrong by amending his weaknesses when he launched his signature three-pointer from 25 feet in distance and survived an exuberant series. The vibe is much different in Miami, a place where the crowd was energized and shouted loudly, following his sequential three-pointers in the final 2:10 to extend the score in the Heat's favor.

"It means everything," said James of his relationship with Wade. "It is part of the reason I came here, not only because of his talent, but because of the friendship we had."

On this particular night, he settled for 33 points on 20 shots and Wade contributed as well. Between the horrid performance early on, three helpless turnovers, the absences in his arsenal of ball-handling and successive onslaughts to find his rhythm, James was on his way to having a poor night in what would have formulated plenty of madness when he is devoid of a championship because he derails against Boston. Though he began by shooting 0-for-4 with a multitude of turnovers, struggling to attack the rim and delivering the knockout punches, his presence was required in a game the Heat needed to close out the Celtics with a 3-1 lead in the series.

"Part of the reason we came together was them laying the blueprint," James said. "They pushed us, every second, every play, every minute out on the court. If we made a mistake, they made us pay for it."

His most telling moment, the biggest breakthrough in his lifetime, came in a closeout game against the Celtics. And just as he's been longing for, at last, he scored 33 points, including the final 10 points of the game and ended Boston's season. He reflected on the backlash in the wave of emotions, removed the bitter taste of defeats and rejoiced with his new teammates.

"Everything went through my mind," James said. "Everything with this team and everything I went through with the decision, deciding to come down here, because I knew how important team was to this sport. All the backlash I got from it, the talks me and D-Wade had. I'd be up here for two hours if I told you everything that went through my head. It was just very emotional at that point."

It has taken 10 months and a series win over the Celtics before James, for once, expressed forgiveness and remorse for "The Decision," the P.R. controversy that tarnished his reputation when he incensed the majority of fans, especially the supporters in Ohio. After the Heat eliminated the Celtics last night, possibly closing the window eternally, James was very apologetic and finished off Boston.

"You're not beating a team like the Boston Celtics with one guy that's the focal point of the offense," Wade said. "That's why I said last year that I'm not going out in the first round again. I'm not putting myself in this position. I'm gonna recruit and get some help. I understood that I needed help, especially against a team like that."

This time, in triumph, James was the winner. This time, he beat the Celtics. This time, he had the last laugh.