Home > NBA > LeBron James’ First Title and the End of an Era for the NBA

LeBron James’ First Title and the End of an Era for the NBA

Last Thursday we saw the long awaited crowning of King James on top of the NBA Throne. Despite LeBron James accumulating two MVP trophies and two appearances in the Finals, some NBA purists and general LeBron-haters loved to rant about how LeBron will never win a championship with the top-heavy Miami team that he created along with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach during the summer of 2010.

The claims of LeBron’s fate of being championship-less for his entire career, although popular during a time of extreme scrutiny on James, were fairly unfounded. It was pretty unlikely that the arguably “best” player in the NBA would go his entire career without winning a championship. It just wasn’t going to happen, especially in a league defined by star players.

That being said, it has been pretty fun for sports and media pundits/bloggers in the last five or so years with story lines focusing around LeBron being the most talented player who hadn’t won a title.

Much of the discussion after the Miami win has been about the ushering in of a new ear, one where the Heat are finally able to relax, where the proverbial monkey is off LeBron’s back,  where they can really start playing now, and where the “not five, not six, not seven” championships for Miami might actually be possible. There is a new era upon us but not because of the prospect of the Heat’s new dominance, instead due to the fact that a defined era has just ended.

Since LeBron’s breakout playoff performance in the 2006-07 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons where LeBron scored 48 points, including 25 straight to end the game, the underlying story within every season has been related to LeBron not winning a title.

Some could argue that last five years of the NBA, spanning from 2006-07 to 2011-12 could be better defined as “the renewed rivalry between the Celtics and the Lakers” or “the renewed youth moment in the NBA” and there would be solid arguments made for both of those labels. When I look back at the stories that have dominated the sports media atmosphere recently, regardless of who was winning championships, it was the story of who wasn’t winning championships, and those stories were focused on LeBron James.

Moments like this have defined an era of the NBA.

Everything that happened during the 2009-10 playoffs with LeBron wilting under the pressure in the Celtics series and then The Decision and the Miami Welcome Party only magnified the lack-of-championship scrutiny applied to LeBron by the sports media.

The only real comparison that I can think of in the sports world has been my personal experience following Tiger Woods and the professional golf world. As someone who is indifferent to the sport of golf, especially from the fan side of things, I really only see the highlights on SportsCenter. From my general observation, it doesn’t really matter how Tiger is doing in a tournament but as long as he is in it he is going to dominate the media coverage.

After the recent US Open I was watching a SportsCenter highlight package that was showing clips after clips of Tiger’s day on the course. From this, and from not listening very closely to the audio, I assumed that he must have been in the running to win the tourney. At the end of the segment, to my surprise, they showed the Final Leaders Board with the top three names being Webb Simpson, Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson….

Ok, as I have already admitted I don’t follow golf so although I have never heard of these individuals they may very well be known commodities within in the world of golf. The thing that really struck me though, was that I had just watched the whole highlight package and I hadn’t seen any of these guys’ golf swings! I saw every flub and sand trap shot by Tiger, but none by the guys who finished in the top three!

With the big stars in sports, and especially the ones who are seen as being such natural talents that are head and shoulders above the rest of the competition (LeBron, Tiger) it is a bigger story when they aren’t winning since winning is the absolute minimum that is expected from these guys!

The basketball sports media has had an absolute heyday with LeBron’s lack-of-championship and playoff disappointments. So much so I would say that it defined an era of the league. In the summers after the Spurs, Celtics, Lakers, or Mavericks won the title one of the biggest stories was always that LeBron didn’t win the title.

Now that LeBron has won one, things are going to be much much different. Immediately after the Heat won we started to see some of LeBron’s biggest critics changing their tune. This may be completely justifiable as LeBron did play at a new level in the playoffs in the fashion that everyone has been demanding of him, but now that he has done it so incredibly the banter around the topic is due to subside. This is a huge deal in sports media world where hour long radio/TV shows have been dedicated to breaking down LeBron’s playoff failures.

With his new championship trophy in hand LeBron is even feeling more likable as a person. His post game interview seemed genuine and the Heat celebrations have been as expected. LeBron is starting to feel like a more average superstar now, personality wise, and not the polarizing force he just recently represented, which will result in less personal criticism to go along with the decline in his professional criticism.

The “Massive LeBron Criticism Era” is officially over. It is going to be much harder for anyone in the media to nitpick a NBA Finals MVP. The question now is, “What will define the next NBA era?”

I don’t see the supersized championship expectations that were on LeBron’s shoulders being passed along to any current player, not to the same extent anyways, mostly because no one else out there is as talented as LeBron. The arguments could be made that for Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul to be considered the best-of-the-best they are going to have to win a championship. That may be true, but I don’t see those news stories defining the next era, they just aren’t the same type of talent that LeBron is and subsequently they won’t receive the same pressures.

If I had to guess I would think the next era should be something like “Heat vs. Thunder” or “LeBron vs. Durant”. I always preferred man-vs-man stories in grade school English class over man-vs-self.

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