It's taken 10 years and many a bruise to his reputation and self-esteem, but LeBron James at last stands at the pinnacle of professional basketball, after leading the Miami Heat to the 2012 NBA championship – the one prize whose absence had prevented his recognition as the finest in his sport.
After a ferociously contested first four games, the Heat wrapped up the title in the American Airlines arena in Miami on Thursday night, destroying the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 to clinch a 4-1 series victory.
For the Heat it was a second NBA crown in six years, but for James it was far more – vindication, cleansing and coronation all in one – the moment he delivered when it mattered most. He dominated the entire series, but Game Five was the icing on the cake, with a "triple-double": 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists.
When he left the game for good with 3.01 left on the clock, a rapturous crowd of 20,000 gave him a standing ovation. The evening had belonged to James.
"It's about damn time," he said during the presentation ceremony, as he lifted both the championship trophy and the Bill Russell award for the series' Most Valuable Player award. Then he repeated himself: "It's about damn time."
And so it is – a decade, in fact, since Sports Illustrated anointed the 17-year-old James "The Chosen One" on the cover of its February 18, 2002 issue, the magazine proclaiming him the heir to Michael Jordan.
The following year he went as the draft pick to the local Cleveland Cavaliers, but the boundless expectations were never quite fulfilled.
In southern Florida, James became the biggest jewel of a glittering roster that included Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh but failed to deliver.
Not in 2012, however. "Everything changes," said that earlier monarch of basketball Magic Johnson. With his championship ring, James could finally feel he was the world's best: "The ring says so. Not the media, not the marketing. His game actually says so."Reuse content