When I saw the Heat win the championship last week, all I could think about was The Matrix. Mainly, the final scenes where Neo battles Mr. Smith.
Neo and Mr. Smith battle it out over the last 20 or so minutes of the movie and each time, despite Neo's incredible gifts, Mr. Smith overpowers him and eventually kills him. Despite being counted for dead, Neo came back and instead of being angry or afraid, he was focused and started to channel his energy to become the great power he was promised to be.
You remember the rest: Bullets stopped in mid-air, countering Mr. Smith so effortlessly that he did it with one hand and finally defeating him. Everything slowed down and he was able to win by just trusting his gifts. He became The One that he was told to be.
That's what LeBron James did in the postseason and regular season. Instead of just overpowering people and overdoing it to the point of psyching himself out, he relaxed. He trusted his game. He developed his game and in this shortened season, hiccups and all, he and his team were the last ones standing.
Without a question, LeBron was at times the best scorer, rebounder, passer, facilitator AND defender during the NBA Finals. His triple double in Game 5 will be remembered as well as his other great games. We talk about champions having an iron will and what's more sharp than doing it all without it being forced. Instead of cutting his teammates, his iron will sharpened them to be better.
Shane Battier? An unreal 57% from 3-point land for the series. Mario Chalmers? The Game 4 killer who scored 25 points. Mike Miller? In 23 minutes (he had only played 21 TOTAL in the previous 4 games), he hit 7 3's. It was as if John Paxson's ghost filled up Battier and Miller to play like he did for the 91-93 Bulls.
What we watched LeBron over the last 7 games (going back to Game 6 vs. Boston) spoke volumes about how his game and mind have grown. Game 6 was like Neo and Trinity shooting up the building to free Morpheus. It was a risky mission but it had to be done. Likewise, LeBron had to go back to playing more selfishly because his team needed it. If he failed, he'd be labeled a gunner, but if he succeeded, how glorious it would be.
That's the do or die attitude the greats have. They not only play without fear, they step out of themselves only to rediscover themselves.
Most of all, his attitude changed. Last year showed him what it took to be a champion. A narrower focus and inner motivation that manifested itself in effort. I wrote in this space last year that he needed to study Magic Johnson to see how Magic improved his game/mental focus after a crushing Finals defeat.
Safe to say he finally got it. He became better in the post and defended bigger players. He attacked the basket and got comfortable with his mid-range game. He did everything that was asked of him to do and then some. Was he perfect with it? No - see the All-Star Game or various other games this year. However, that was all a learning tool.
Neo had trouble adjusting to his new title as well. Unlike LeBron he didn't embrace his crown. He didn't want to be The One. He had to believe that he was and start acting like it without fear. It was the reverse for LeBron, who was crowned King at 16 and was paraded with his crown without realizing how much work to earn it.
He had the all-around talent, the dominance and the intelligence but he hadn't refined the nuances to make him greater. Just like Neo had the gift to be great but didn't believe it and tried to run from it. Yet both of them realized what they had to do to fulfill their promise and through adversity, they finally reached their full greatness.
I'm proud of LeBron's rise to the mountaintop. Proud of him responding to adversity, proud of him raising his game to another level. You can argue that he's the best 2-way player in the game, versatile enough to defend every position and best of all, mentally sharp to do it at any point and any time.
Welcome to the Champions Club, King James.