Friday, 22 June 2012
LeBron James can finally add National Basketball Association champion to his resume, alongside best player in the game, after leading Miami Heat to the title on Thursday.
James finally got his hands on the championship that had long eluded him in Cleveland and in last year's finals series defeat.
He scored 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds as the Heat powered to a 121-106 win over Oklahoma City Thunder, taking the finals series 4-1.
Chris Bosh added 23 points and Dwyane Wade scored 20 points as the Heat's 'Big Three' were showered in championship confetti that most had expected since they were brought together in Miami two years ago.
Regarded by many as the NBA's best player in the game for several years, James has belatedly become part of the best team.
"It's about damn time. It's about damn time," James said moments after the win.
"It means everything. I made a difficult decision to leave Cleveland but I understood what my future was about ... I knew we had a bright future (in Miami).
"This is a dream come true for me. This is definitely when it pays off."
He left the game along with Wade and Bosh for good with 3:01 remaining for a round of hugs and the start for a celebration he's been waiting for since arriving in the NBA out of high school as the No.1 pick of the 2003 draft.
James hopped up and down in the final minutes, shared a long hug with opponent Kevin Durant, and watched the confetti rain down from the rafters.
"Happiest day of my life," he said.
The Heat took control in the second quarter, briefly lost it and blew it open again in the third behind their role players, James content to pass to wide-open 3-point shooters while the Thunder focused all their attention on him.
Miami also got a huge boost from Mike Miller, who made seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points.
The disappointment of losing to Dallas in six games last year vanished in a blowout of the demoralised Thunder, who got 32 points and 11 rebounds from Durant.
That made it easier for James, the most heavily scrutinised player in the league since his departure from Cleveland, when he announced he was "taking his talents to South Beach" on a TV special called "The Decision" that was criticised everywhere up to the commissioner's office.
James has said he wishes he handled things differently, but few who watched the Cavaliers fail to assemble championship talent around him could have argued with his desire to depart.
He found in Miami a team where he never had to do it alone - though he reminded everyone during his sensational post season run that he still could when necessary.
He got support whenever he needed it in this series, from Shane Battier's 17 points in Game 2 to Mario Chalmers' 25 in Game 4.
In the clincher it was Miller, banged-up from so many recent injuries that he practically limps from the bench to scorer's table when he checks in.
He made his fourth 3-pointer of the half right before James' fast-break basket capped a 15-2 run that extended Miami's lead to 53-36 with 4:42 remaining in the first half.
James had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists at halftime, with the Heat ahead 59-49.
Durant added 11 rebounds for the Thunder, who made a remarkably early trip to the NBA Finals just three years after starting 3-29.
With Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden all 23 or younger, the Thunder have the pieces in place for a lengthy stay atop the Western Conference.
But their inexperience showed in this series, a few questionable decisions, possessions and outright mistakes costing them.
Nothing they done could have stopped James, anyway.
James promised multiple titles when he arrived in Miami, and the Heat have three pieces to build around.