MIAMI (AP) — Music blared and confetti fell, the only celebration LeBron James really wanted in Miami.
Not that one two summers ago, the welcoming rally where he boasted of multiple titles, perhaps without realizing how hard it would be to win just one.
He dreamed of this moment, with teammates surrounding him and the NBA championship trophy beside him.
“You know, my dream has become a reality now, and it’s the best feeling I ever had,” James said.
Ripped and ridiculed for the way he announced he was leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach, it’s all worth it now for James.
Best player in the game. Best team in the league.
And now, NBA champion.
“I’m happy now that eight years later, nine years later since I’ve been drafted, that I can finally say that I’m a champion, and I did it the right way,” James said. “I didn’t shortcut anything. You know, I put a lot of hard work and dedication in it, and hard work pays off. It’s a great moment for myself.”
And for his teammates, who watched the Dallas Mavericks celebrate on their floor last year.
James left the game along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for good with 3:01 remaining for a round of hugs and the start for a party 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 then soaked in the “MVP! MVP! chants during the raucous postgame.
“I wanted to become a champion someday,” James said. “I didn’t know exactly when it would happen, but I put in a lot of hard work.”
He was a choker last year, the guy who came up small in the fourth quarter, mocked for “shrinking” in the moment while playing with what he called “hatred” in trying to prove his critics wrong.
He came to Miami seeking an easier road to the finals but found it tougher than he expected, the Heat coming up empty last year and nearly getting knocked out in the Eastern Conference finals this time by Boston. Facing elimination there, James poured in 45 points on the road to force a Game 7 and the Heat won it at home.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a basketball player,” James said. “You just put a lot of hard work into it and you hope that one day it will pay off for you.”