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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Column: James delivers

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Not much in sports lives up to the hype, not in today's massive sports hype machine.

There have been a lot of "next greatest" or "best players" come along, especially when people start using this label on high school athletes. But ever since LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16, he has been the "Chosen One" by media, fans, everyone. He's had the pressure to be the greatest player in history, the "next Michael Jordan", league MVP, NBA champion. If he didn't people would say he failed, say he didn't fulfill his potential.

After winning the 2012 NBA Finals MVP following a triple-double in a 121-106 title-clinching victory Thursday night in Miami, James can cross NBA Champion off his list. He's done everything else on it and then some.

It's been a nine-year road to his first championship for James, who said he first picked up a basketball at age nine. The journey for James, while seemingly charmed, came with obstacles and scrutiny never seen before.

Some might think James brought some the personal and professional attacks on his character and abilities on himself. When he chose to leave Cleveland two years ago for the Miami Heat, people said he was a traitor. He was leaving his "hometown" fans after not fulfilling his promise of bringing them the title they so desperately crave for the city.

The backlash for "The Decision" was swift and venomous. When he showed up for an introduction with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at Miami's arena a couple days later and infamously stated he was there to win "not one, not two, not three ... not five ... not seven" rings, people really turned on him.

Both incidents were perceived as arrogant and turned LeBron, a once well-liked player, into the villain of the league, the one everyone loved to hate. Nobody wanted to see the Heat, especially the "arrogant and disloyal" James, win anything. People considered him a "bad guy," even though no fan truly knows him, and there's nothing really to support such a claim.

"The Decision" raised $3 million for charity and the preseason celebration, while ill-fated, really didn't make him a bad guy at all. Telling Miami Heat fans he's there to win multiple championships isn't something to hang over his head for years and years. But people did, and will, even though he admits he could have handled things differently.

James has never been in trouble off the court, and has never been in the news for something negative. He conducts himself well in interviews and appearances. People just didn't like him, for whatever illogical reason they had or still have. Everyone's entitled to their opinion.

The public rooting against James got its wish last season when he turned in a sub-standard performance in the Finals, which were lost to the Dallas Mavericks, 4-2. As it turned out, that loss is what propelled James to his ultimate accomplishment.

"The best thing to happen to my career was losing the Finals last year," James said in one of the many interviews after winning Game 5. "Last year humbled me and put me back in place."

James said he was trying to prove all the naysayers wrong last year, and was hurt when people branded him as a selfish person and selfish player. In the social media world we live in, there's an opinion, often negative, everywhere you turn.

"You can't control what people say about you. You just have to stay true to yourself."

But when it came down to accomplishing his own goals, like anyone else who's motivated to do something they say can't be done, it's comes down to the person in the mirror.

"A lot of people had a lot to do with it but, at the end of the day, I had to look myself in mirror and say, 'You gotta get better, on and off the court,'" James said.

Whether you love LeBron James or hate him, or don't really care, he came through with an NBA championship by the age of 27. He became a champion, something no one can take away. People can learn something from James, no matter the feelings.

The NBA, and professional sports in general, is littered with players who coulda, shoulda, woulda been the next greatest thing. LeBron James accomplished everything with millions on his back hoping he would fail. It was a pleasure to see the gorilla get lifted off his back.

In the prime of his career, James is far from done. You don't have to like him, but he's living up to the hype in front of our eyes. And now he's a champion.

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Zach Jevne
Real Sports Talk
Zach joined the Daily Reporter staff as sports editor in March 2011. He is originally from Decorah, Iowa. He played baseball at University of Northern Iowa and studied multimedia journalism at Simpson College.