The funny thing about the first nine years of LeBron James's career, in the wake of the Miami Heat's title-clinching 121–106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, is that no one's going to remember them. Sure, they'll recall certain moments, they'll be in awe of his statistical accomplishments and they'll definitely never forget The Decision, even if they've forgiven it. (And it appears, this morning, that everybody has.) But now that he has his first title, a title, every minute of his career will lose focus. It's all prologue. It will all just become a big blur of Before.
LeBron has been playing dominant basketball for nine years now, but he has never been as dominant as he has been in the last two weeks. A fortnight ago, the Heat were down 3-2 to the Celtics, and the Grand Miami Experiment was near dismantlement. LeBron then just took over and led the Heat to wins in six of their next seven games, against the best basketball players in the world. Last night he was at his best, tossing up a triple-double, essentially, in three quarters. If this game had been close, he might have gone 40-15-15. It was overwhelming, and definitive. You certainly can't deny LeBron anymore.
Last night was pretty much a wipeout. When LeBron plays like he's playing, and the three-point shooters start hitting everything (what in the world got into Mike Miller? And don't say "meth"), the Heat are essentially unbeatable. That's not necessarily the sort of thing that is gonna make Knicks fans feel better about the next five years, but that goes for every other team in the NBA as well. The Heat's primary weakness over the last two years was that they had never won anything. That's not a problem anymore. The Heat dynasty, the one everyone was counting on never emerging, has only just begun. LeBron will never be known as a choker again, at least not by anyone reasonable. (Though those who were calling him that before this weren't exactly the most reasonable folks anyway.) That part of his career is over. That's the difference a title, and a performance as overwhelming as this one, can be.
Which leads us all to deal with the new LeBron. (After all, LeBron has always known he could do this. Now the rest of us do.) Reeves Wiedeman of The New Yorker wrote a smart piece yesterday about how, all told, LeBron has almost made himself likable in this series, to the point that you almost forget why you disliked him in the first place. Now, let us not be entirely revisionist here: There were plenty of reasons to cheer against LeBron, even if downright disliking him seemed over-the-top. But so many of those were in the context of "this guy acts like a champion, but isn't." Now he is. LeBron James's search for a title has been the signature NBA story line of the last six seasons. Now that he has one, it's difficult to think that the next story line is about him going for his second ... and his third ... and his fourth. He made every adjustment to his game to get himself to this point. Now, when it comes to the LeBron Narrative, it's probably time for all of us to make some adjustments of our own. He's done it and, all told, you have to be happy for him. Even if it's through your gritted teeth.