The great Michael Jordan has talked openly about the transformation he and his Chicago Bulls experienced after winning their first championship. All the pain and heartache, the inner-questioning, and the intense scrutiny that followed the team after falling 3-straight years to the ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons, was extinguished once they defeated Magic’s Lakers in the summer of ’91.
From there, the pressure was lifted off Jordan’s shoulders. No longer did he have to pretend to ignore those questioning whether he could ever lead a team to a title. Those critics were silenced.
And then, Jordan and his Bulls won another five championships.
Jordan was able to play with a sense of freedom during those years — to play for himself and his team, without having one eye on those who were prematurely debating his legacy. He didn’t have to be so self-conscious, so aware of everything around him.
The rest of the NBA didn’t stand a chance.
Last week another team with a transcendent superstar came of age to win the Larry O’Brien trophy. Just like those ’91 Bulls, they lost Game 1 to a team that was favored to beat them. And just like that Bulls team, their superstar’s championship-winning credentials were continually questioned.
That discourse can end now.
LeBron James in an NBA champion and he carried his team on his back to win that title. His numbers throughout the playoffs, and Finals, were simply staggering. His Game 4 against Indiana, and Game 6 against Boston, were two of the greatest single-game playoffs performances ever.
Without a shadow of a doubt, James has solidified his status as one of the all-time greats.
But can James emulate Jordan, and go on to win multiple titles? The titles he boasted about in that ill-advised introduction party two years ago.
Seven? No chance. But two, three or even four? That’s definitely in play.
That first one, as Jordan knew well, is the hardest to win. And like it was for Jordan, the pressure will now be off James. The most scrutinized player since Wilt Chamberlain has now banished the demons of last summer—he has his ring and a Finals MVP to go with it.
The rest of the NBA better watch out.
Pat Riley will undoubtedly do his upmost to ensure that the Heat take advantage of a looser, freer, LeBron James. Mike Miller was superb in Game 5, but how good would a healthy Ray Allen look in Heat colours next season? Double-team James with that guy hanging on the perimeter — I dare you!
Miami will shed some dead weight off their roster in the summer, while using the allure of playing for the NBA champions to attract some serviceable free agents.
Bosh will be healthy, rookie Norris Cole will only get better, and, of course, Dwayne Wade will have a summer to rest-up and heal a body that was so banged-up in the postseason
Don’t get me wrong; LeBron James is no Michael Jordan. It will take another five championships, and some more dominant Finals performances to warrant a serious comparison of the two men. But James has the potential to dominate the league over the next few years; the way Jordan dominated his era.
A better James, free of the shackles of his demons, and our constant debating, with an improved supporting cast, is an ominous challenge for the rest of the league.