MIAMI (AP) - LeBron James looked at the crowd, knowing he had just a few moments left on the court for the season.
He waved his arms to them. They roared back. Moments later, he was atop the stage at center court, wearing a champions’ hat and T-shirt, and waving a champions’ towel.
He smiled. He danced.
For the first time in nine years, he enjoyed the ultimate relief. Maligned for so long, by so many, it brought him to this moment. On Thursday night _ with a triple-double, no less, 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds _ LeBron James got his NBA title.
That’s no longer an issue.
The man who was called heartless, callous, narcissistic, cowardly and selfish _ and that was just in one scorned, angry letter from Dan Gilbert, the man who used to pay him to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers _ will forever be called something else.
He’s a champion.
“When he gets involved in something, business, basketball, he puts everything he has into it,” longtime associate Maverick Carter said. “And this year, during the playoffs, he took it up another notch. He dedicated himself even more. I don’t think he’s any more dedicated than he was last year, but he found ways this year to channel it better, to limit his distractions and it raised his focus.”
It raised the city of Miami, and raised the Heat back to the mountaintop as well.
And next fall, James will be there when they raise a second championship banner.
“He’s one of a kind,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “One of a kind.”
Vilified for both exercising his right to leave Cleveland and for the manner in which he announced the move, James came to Miami for this very thing. It took two years _ one more than many people expected. The change of address didn’t come with a change in stature. He remains one of the world’s most polarizing and best-paid athletes, with his annual income recently estimated by Forbes to be $53 million.
But apparently, when it comes to James, enormous money and fame is not enough to satisfy everyone. A guy who is already a lock for the Hall of Fame _ and might only be halfway or so through his career _ needed a championship as validation.
Fairly or unfairly, that was the deal. And that title is now his.