cover of Sports Illustrated while he was in high school. His high school games were aired on ESPN. He drove a Hummer during his senior year of high school. He didn't take an R&B starlet to the prom, though. He had an eight figure shoe deal with Nike before he was drafted by an NBA team. He was easily the most heralded basketball player coming out of high school since Lew Alcindor. The general public tends to prefer to see athletes earn their accolades and the sense is LeBron hasn't lived all the way up to the hype. Too many people simply assumed that he would ascend the heights of the basketball world and he'd win championship rings by the fistfuls. There's a generational divide as well. Younger people are LeBron fans because he's the icon of their era and his rise matches the times now - the era of the instant 'classic', real time updates, constant feedback, Tweets, ESPN highlights and 'debate' shows.
After a tumultuous 2010-2011 season, his much criticized "Decision" brought him back to the NBA Finals in the first year of this grand experiment. The funny thing is that the juggernaut that is LeBron James was conspicuously absent during that most critical time. Eighteen total points in six NBA Finals fourth quarters. Two wins from a coveted NBA Championship and the "King" appeared to have abdicated the throne, allowing the Dallas Mavericks to pull off a coup that not many expected. The vitriol that built after the night of the "Decision" came pouring down on LeBron with the force of an avalanche. All the front running, the sideline dancing, the fake pre-game photo ops reduced the "King" to a jester in the court of public opinion. Not to mention the incessant excuses and downright ridiculous stories that were "leaked" to explain his inability to win a championship. All the while he's put up insane numbers, but the public only remembers that the numbers don't mean a thing 'cause he ain't got that ring. A lesser man would have remained buried under the weight of the criticism. Not this time.
The 2011-2012 campaign showcased a new and improved LeBron James. He spent time training with Hakeem Olajuwon and returned with some semblance of a post game. He trained with Kevin Durant during the lockout to improve his game and stay in shape. He then went about spending a good portion of the season threatening to have the best statistical season of all time. The season was not without bumps in the road. The Heat finished with the fourth best regular season record in the NBA after finishing third in 2011. Once the playoffs started, things started to line up for James. One by one, he knocked down every team in his path, each step in the road harder than the last. Where he faded down the stretch last year, he has continued to build momentum this year. He knows these chances don't come along every year. He knows he let a great opportunity slip through his grasp last year.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder are all that stand in the way of LeBron James and basketball immortality. They have also felt the sting of defeat in their young careers. They don't care that others had to wait to win nor do they want to wait to win. However, this moment and this time feels like it finally belongs to LeBron James. With a 3-1 series lead, the young Thunder are undoubtedly sick to their stomachs knowing this series could easily be 3-1 in their favor. Again, LeBron James faces another moment of truth tonight. After marching through the Eastern Conference, James has to defeat the player that everyone has been comparing him to this season.
The truth is that LeBron has no peer. He has a skill set that no other player in the game has. One win is all LeBron needs to be 'certified'. Kevin Garnett knew what a ring would do to 'certify' his career and actually gave LeBron advice that led to his departure from Cleveland. LeBron James is 48 NBA minutes away from his 'certification.' The series is not over but in 48 NBA minutes, some stars may fade away into the night while one star can shine brighter than it ever has before. The world is ready to bear witness.