|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2012||[Print without images]|
|LeBron James got to hold his first NBA championship trophy after coming to grips with his own reality.|
|LeBron's first trip to the Finals in 2007 ended in a Spurs sweep.|
“"All the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today," James said, angry in defeat. No smile this time. No hug from Duncan. No safety net of potential to rely on. Coming to grips with all of this has been one of the great challenges of James' life. Right up there with improving his jump shot, asking for the help of others like Hakeem Olajuwon, and understanding that being a leader is more than just scoring a lot of points and making a fiery speech before a big game. It took humility, self-evaluation and soul-searching. "I was very immature," James said this week, looking back on it all. "I played to prove people wrong instead of just playing my game, instead of just going out and having fun and playing a game that I grew up loving and why I fell in love with the game. One thing that I learned, and someone taught me this, the greatest teacher you can have in life is experience. I've experienced some things in my long but short career, and I'm able to make it better of myself throughout these playoffs and throughout this whole year, and that's on and off the court." James could've said things like that in the past and maybe even thought he meant them. But now, nine years into his career, there are actions to back them up. James' statistics in leading the Heat to this trophy were fantastic, but his statistics always were. His highlight plays were incredible, but that's been the case since he was 18. James realized that to manage expectation, to meet expectation, he had to remove himself from expectation. These entire playoffs -- in fact, most of the season -- have been one long exercise in doing so. And for the first time in years, he's been able to call it a success. Now, for a little while, he can forget expectation. And focus on celebration. "It was a journey," James said. "Everything that went along with me being a high school prodigy when I was 16 and on the cover of Sports Illustrated to being drafted and having to be the face of a franchise and everything that came with it. I had to deal with it and I had to learn through it. No one had gone through that journey and I had to learn on my own. I can finally say that I'm a champion."
I can finally say that I'm a champion. ” -- LeBron James