Thank God the Heat won. Those words probably haven’t been said by anyone outside of Miami, but we are lucky that the Heat did what they were supposed to do: win the Finals. If the Spurs had pulled out the upset, we all would have had to deal with an entire summer and NBA season about how the Heat need to break up the Big 3 and how LeBron isn’t who we thought he was. Thankfully, LeBron dominated Game 6 and 7 to cap off his second straight Finals MVP. His legacy path is a little clearer for all of us now. He’s on track to be one of the greatest to ever play the game. If the Heat had lost and LeBron was 1-3 in the Finals, with two so-so performances (’11 and ’13), his legacy would have been muddled forever. His accomplishments would be overshadowed by his inability to come up big when it really mattered. Last year’s Finals would have been seen as a fluke, the only time he came up huge in the clutch. Now, we can all agree with certainty that LeBron is the greatest player in the world, and the greatest player we’ve seen since MJ.Magic Johnson said it after Game 7. LeBron has the best chance of anyone we’ve seen to surpass Jordan.
Moving forward, there will be endless comparison to Michael Jordan, even though those comparisons are probably unfair. The question now is how many rings LeBron can end up with. He’s a third of the way there to Jordan’s unprecedented six rings. The Heat will try to three-peat next season, something that has happened in the NBA five times, last done by the Kobe and Shaq Lakers team. Unless the Heat make some moves though, it’s tough to see them winning another ring next season with Wade suddenly looking mediocre, and Bosh putting up doughnuts. LeBron can only do so much. We saw that in Cleveland, and while he’s much better now, he still needs help. There will be rampant speculation on whether LeBron will stay in Miami after next season, or opt out and go to Cleveland. It’s looking like Cleveland will be the more attractive destination, not to mention the ultimate sports story. Either way, LeBron is now ahead of schedule in the rings department when compared to Jordan. Jordan didn’t get his second ring until he was 29, and LeBron just got his at age 28.
Forecasting how many rings LeBron will end up is nearly impossible since no one even knows what uniform he’ll be wearing in two years. What we do know though is that the best player on the championship team has never left for another team. So, if the Heat three-peat next season, there’s almost no chance LeBron leaves. Regardless of whether LeBron wins another ring though, we will never question him again. We were about .0000000001 seconds away from tearing his legacy to pieces after Game 5, but after he pulled Miami to the title with a 37 and 12 output in Game 7, he quieted all of his critics. LeBron is no longer the same player he was in 2011, the guy who looked scared of the stage against the Mavericks. LeBron has vaulted his game to another level that we haven’t seen since Jordan. He’s the most talented player in the league by far right now and he still has 3 or 4 more years in his prime. He has finally lived up to the out-of-this-world hype he set up for himself when he entered the league with the “Chosen One” Sports Illustrated cover. The comical “Not one, not two, not three…” rant a few years ago may end up being more of an eery premonition than we ever envisioned. LeBron might not ever surpass Jordan in terms of rings, but he could still have a better story. LeBron proved everyone wrong. He proved he’s a winner. He proved he can carry a team. He proved he’s not afraid of the big stage. He proved he can make the big shot. All he has left is to go back home and bring Cleveland, the most cursed sports city ever, a championship. If LeBron is able to go back and team up with Kyrie Irving and company, and win a title, he will own one of the most incredible sports stories of redemption ever. He will have gone from the hometown superstar, to the hated traitor, to the beloved savior if he can do that. LeBron has undergone a transformation unseen in the history of the NBA. Never before has a player faced so much scrutiny and adversity in his career as LeBron did after the 2011 Finals loss to the Mavs. At that point, LeBron’s career arc could’ve gone two ways: he could have drowned in the all media criticism and never been the same player again, or he could’ve matured and dominated the league, having an eff-you attitude to every team he faced. Most everyone wanted him to take the first path and essentially fail, but thankfully he took the other road and dominated the league to an unprecedented scale. LeBron will always have haters, those who think he shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan, but LeBron is quickly cementing his place on the NBA Mount Rushmore. Right now, it goes something like this: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Bill Russell. Now, it’s hard to imagine LeBron knocking one of those guys off, especially since Magic and Bird can’t be mentioned without the other one, but he will most likely go down as one of the best two or three players ever. However many rings LeBron ends up with, I will be proud to say I got to witness one of the greatest to ever play the game.