LeBron James captures his first championship as Heat win NBA Finals

Yahoo Sports US

MIAMI – These used to be the moments that suffocated LeBron James. End of a game, the world watching, everyone expecting greatness. A TV camera would catch James sitting on the bench, gnawing on his fingernails during a timeout. He'd take the court, and the ball – and the game – would find their way into his large hands. Too often, he'd give them both to a teammate. The pressure, the responsibility to live up to his enormous talent, was too much for him to shoulder.

No longer is James haunted by his demons. He embraces these moments now, and as the final seconds ticked off the clock late Thursday, James was finally free of the burden he had carried for so long. Finally, the world could call him a champion.

View gallery


LeBron James wrapped up his first NBA title. (AP)

James had walked off the court a few minutes earlier, the Miami Heat's 121-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder long since secure. He dominated these NBA Finals, and he saved his best for last with a 26-point, 13-assist, 11-rebound triple-double performance. James hugged his teammates and coaches, screamed and waved his arms. No more doubts. He owned his elusive title.

"It's about damn time," James said after accepting the Finals MVP trophy from Bill Russell. "It's about damn time."

He had come into the Finals with people questioning whether Kevin Durant had surpassed him as the game's greatest player, with the Heat cast in the unfamiliar role of underdogs. Oklahoma City's victory in Game 1 fanned those sentiments. It turned out to be the only jolt the Heat needed.

James took hold of this series in Game 2 and he never let go. He was the league's best player this season, and he was the greatest player on the floor in these Finals. The Thunder never had an answer for him. Not Durant, not anyone. From the moment James threw down a thunderous dunk to open Thursday night, the message was clear:

No more waiting. This night, this season, belonged to him.

"My dream has become a reality now," James said, "and it's the best feeling I ever had."

[Video: Who will follow Anthony Davis as the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft?]

James' coronation came only after he showed the depth of his greatness. He barreled through the Thunder early then spent much of the rest of the night picking them apart with his precision passes. Each time, the Thunder started to steady themselves, James found an open shooter. Mike Miller, who made seven of his eight 3-pointers. Shane Battier. Mario Chalmers. By the middle of the third quarter, the game – and the series – was out of OKC's reach.

"It was a storybook season for him," Durant said.

Miami's journey through these playoffs was a test in resilience. They trailed in every series but their first. In each, they were led back by James. Dwyane Wade had deferred to James this season, given him control of the Heat, and James accepted the responsibility.

No athlete has been more scrutinized, and that's why no NBA championship has ever felt so fulfilling for one player. James has become an athlete for our times, delivered onto the world's stage as a high school senior, wealth and celebrity finding him well before maturity. He's grown up before us, teenager to global star, Akron to South Beach, his flaws and failures just as compelling a story as his successes.

Drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, James seemed destined to someday deliver his hometown the championship it so craved. He took the Cavs to the Finals in 2007, but was gone in four games, swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Four years later, James decided he'd had enough, the burden to carry Cleveland by himself too great. So he left.

View gallery


LeBron James enjoys the spoils of victory, his first NBA title in three trips to the Finals. (AFP)

James' free-agent courtship was unlike any other in the sport's history. He had been raised in front of cameras, his life chronicled in 140-character tweets, and he announced his decision, fittingly enough, in a narcissistic televised special titled "The Decision." "I'm taking my talents to South Beach," James said, giving his generation one of its iconic phrases.

[Related: Painful ending for Kevin Durant, Thunder]

In signing with the Heat, James joined two other stars from his draft class, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in a free-agent haul that seemed to signal a transfer of power in the NBA. Miami treated the trio as royalty, parading them on a stage bathed in smoke and lights, the type of celebration usually reserved for championships, not signatures. James played to the moment, promising to win multiple championships. "Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven," he crowed.

The moment cemented James as one of the greatest villains in sports. James said he willingly accepted the role, that he was content to be the man in black, a target for critics and opposing fans alike. In truth, he wasn't strong enough to handle the contempt.

Unlike Michael Jordan and some of the NBA's other great champions, James didn't arrive with an indomitable spirit. He had to learn to develop one, and his first season in Miami provided quite the lesson. Favored to win the title, the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals as James flitted around the perimeter and shrunk in the series' biggest moments.

[Also: Imagine a U.S. soccer team with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and other top athletes]

James never looked so young afterward. On the same stage in which he celebrated Thursday's coronation, he pouted and tried to mock his critics, his insecurities pouring out in front of the world.

Deep down, James knew he needed to change. He shut himself off to the world for two weeks after the series, and the year since has been one of introspection. He found a mentor in Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon. He began reading more, including at his locker before games. He turned off his cell phone before the playoffs. He blocked out the distractions and did everything, it seemed, to put his mind at ease.

"It took me to go all the way to the top and then rock bottom basically to realize what I needed to do as a professional athlete and as a person," James said.

So on the eve of his first championship, James surprised no one when he announced: "I feel comfortable."

[Slideshow: Miami celebrates its second title]

Throughout this postseason, James has sustained his aggressiveness like never before. He's taken the ball into the post and attacked from different angles. No floating this year. He unleashed an epic 45-point performance with the Heat facing elimination against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, and he dominated the Thunder in this series.

James always needed a championship to validate his greatness. It probably won't change everyone's perception of him, but it will help, as will the way in which James has carried himself this season. He's displayed a level of humility and openness he'd rarely shown.

A year ago James walked out of this same arena defeated and mocked. As the roar fell down upon him late Thursday, he unfurled his long arms and unburdened himself of all that pressure, all that unfulfilled promise. He was a champion, at last.

NBA Finals video from Yahoo! Sports:

Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
Adrian Wojnarowski: NBA aims to cash in with World Cup of Basketball
Tim Brown: Dodgers' Josh Lindblom 'like a hero' on L.A.'s Skid Row
Ex-NFL QB Ryan Leaf calls himself 'dishonest and selfish' at sentencing
Y! Screen: Baseball player excels despite being deaf

Recommended for You

  • The internet roasts a photo of Donald Trump writing his inauguration speech

    When times get tough, at least you can still meme. President-elect Donald Trump is slated to deliver his inauguration address on Friday, so he teased his Twitter followers with a little behind-the-scenes photo of himself writing a speech at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. SEE ALSO: Don's Johns: Port-a-potties get censored for Trump’s inauguration Writing my inaugural address at the Winter White House, Mar-a-Lago, three weeks ago. Looking forward to Friday. #Inauguration pic.twitter.com/S701FdTCQu — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2017 The staged photo and Trump's cold, dead gaze sent the internet straight into "meme mode alpha," where it was pointed out that Trump was actually holding Sharpie marker, which may or may not actually be closed. @realDonaldTrump that is a blank piece of paper and you're holding a closed sharpie pic.twitter.com/ekCcH8eTXe — Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) January 18, 2017 @cajunmonkey439 @realDonaldTrump It is *obviously* a sharpie. pic.twitter.com/gdD2AUhBKX — Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) January 18, 2017 .@realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/8CSroNshBR — XpeK (@peKofX) January 18, 2017 Surprised that you didn't just use this photo as your epic, bigly speech pic.twitter.com/SezwzToFg4 — Roland Scahill (@rolandscahill) January 18, 2017 good job @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/Ioj869Tfy3 — uhhh (@_uhhhhhhh) January 18, 2017 pic.twitter.com/pAKcXAEAkD — Sam Grittner (@SamGrittner) January 18, 2017 @realDonaldTrump #NotMyPresident #TheResistance #conflict #Putin #Inauguration In house security cam Mar a Lago pic.twitter.com/diwnpjAS3F — Beo Bachter (@kaysintBB) January 18, 2017 Early draft of Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. #TrumpSpeech #MyFirstWordsAsPresident #MAGA pic.twitter.com/qgo1glv5cG — Tom ❄️ (@TommieWho) January 18, 2017 Exclusive sneak peek at Trump's inauguration speech! pic.twitter.com/6W6ex0Ks3z — Kara Calavera (@KaraCalavera) January 18, 2017 Trump's Inaugural address leaked... pic.twitter.com/J8soJQ4Ira — Jordan Uhl (@JordanUhl) January 18, 2017 Exclusive: #Trump's Inauguration speech leaked! #TrumpInaugural #trumpgrammar pic.twitter.com/XzrXXpnjxD — Gerry Stergiopoulos (@GerryGreek) January 18, 2017 According to CNN, Trump did write his inauguration speech himself. BONUS: NBD, just a massive alligator out for a stroll

  • Foreclosed mall once valued at $190M is auctioned for $100

    TARENTUM, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania mall that was foreclosed on after its owners failed to repay $143 million has been auctioned off for $100.

    Associated Press
  • Ex-president George H.W. Bush moved to intensive care; wife hospitalized

    Bush, who at 92 is the nation's oldest living ex-president, has been at Houston Methodist Hospital since Saturday after experiencing shortness of breath, family spokesman Jim McGrath said on Wednesday. Since then, Bush experienced an "acute respiratory problem stemming from pneumonia" and was sedated for the unspecified procedure, his office said.

  • Search Suspended for Dad and 3-Year-Old Son Swept Out to Sea as Wife Looked On

    Authorities had spent 22 hours searching for them by air.

    Inside Edition
  • Giant Florida Gator Is Not For Tourists, Nature Preserve Staff Warn

    Officials for the county's natural resources division said, although, they appreciate the attention the nature reserve has been getting, they are also worried about the safety of visitors and wildlife.

    International Business Times
  • Is your diet changing your gut bacteria? (7 photos)

    Did you know you have trillions of bacteria living inside your body right now? And that’s not a bad thing. These bacteria form the microbiome and when functioning well, these little microbes protect you from harmful invaders, help build your immune system, and play a role in vitamin and short chain fatty acid synthesis.  Imbalances in the intestinal microbiome has been linked to the potential for autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and even obesity and metabolic syndrome . Research is constantly ongoing and emerging in this field. An interesting fact is that your microbiome is completely different and unique when compared to another individual’s. We are colonized when we are born by the microbes in our environment, then furthermore when we’re exposed to breastmilk or formula, and when we begin to eat solid foods.  Once theory suggests that with the emergence of agriculture, animal husbandry, sanitation, and antibiotics, our microbiome has transformed into one that more easily allows the growth of pathogenic bacteria, resulting in allergies, autoimmune disorders, and irritable bowel disease.  The proposition is that depending upon our environment and what we eat, certain harmful or beneficial bacteria are promoted to grow in the body. To test the effects of diet and environment on gut bacteria, Fillipo et al.  conducted a small study in 2010 comparing the fecal microbiota of European children to the fecal microbiota of children from a rural African village.  The European children. who lived in urban areas in Florence, Italy, had been breastfed for a year and consumed a diet that was high in animal protein, fat, starch, sugar, and low in fibre.  The African children, who lived in rural Boulpon in Burkina Faso, were breastfed for up to two years and consumed a diet low in animal protein and fat, and high in starch, plants and fibre. Their food came from nearby villages and specifically included millet, sorghum, black-eye peas, and vegetables. During the rainy season, these children sometimes consumed small amounts of chicken or termites. The researchers found that the African children had a greater proportion of short chain fatty acid producing bacteria (which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties) and greater microbial diversity when compared to the European children. The African children also had lower proportions of harmful, diarrhea causing  Shigella  and  Escherichia  bacteria than the European children. Although the study mentioned above is small and research in this area is ongoing, it is widely known that a diet low in processed sugars and high in fibre and plants is associated with lower cholesterol, improved cardiovascular health, improved blood sugar control, decreased inflammation, and decreased risk of certain cancers.  Why not make peace with your body and the microbiome in your gut and try out some of my signature plant-powered meals and snacks below.  For more creative, delicious, healthy, recipes and expert nutrition information, stay connected with me at RADNUT , Twitter , Facebook , and Instagram !

    Robin Arora-Desilet, Yahoo Health & Nutrition Blogger
  • Virginia man convicted of 2006 slaying of family is executed

    JARRATT, Va. (AP) — A man convicted of killing a family of four, slashing their throats and setting their home ablaze after they left their front door open while preparing for a New Year's Day party in 2006, was executed Wednesday.

    Associated Press
  • North Korea's Kim Jong Un Is So Fat He Might Have Hurt His Ankle Again

    Kim's leg injuries have been linked to obesity in the past and recent pictures show the Korean leader appears to have put on extra weight. 

    International Business Times
  • Donald Trump Tells Democrats Boycotting His Inauguration: Give Me Your Tickets

    'I don't want the celebrities there. I want the people there,' Trump spouted.

    Inside Edition
  • Hall of Famer Willie McCovey pardoned by Obama

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey has been pardoned by President Barack Obama on tax evasion charges from 1995.

    Associated Press
  • One Big Reason Not to Buy Nintendo Switch

    The Nintendo Switch is a pretty versatile gaming machine, but don't count on it replacing your home streaming box anytime soon. According to several reports, Nintendo's $299 portable/home console hybrid won't have any significant entertainment features when it releases on March 3, meaning you'll have to get your Netflix and Hulu fix elsewhere. Business Insider spoke to Nintendo's Kit Ellis, who said that the Switch "won't have many multimedia features at launch." While this doesn't rule out the possibility of popular streaming apps coming to the platform later this year, it seems like you'll be strictly playing games on the Switch on release date (and besides the stunning new Zelda title, there aren't many notable launch games).

    Tech Media Network (Tom's Guide)
  • Undocumented worker sues San Francisco for violating sanctuary law

    The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday on behalf of Pedro Figueroa Zarceno, 32, in federal court in San Francisco against the city and its police chief for violating his right to due process and breaking an ordinance barring municipal employees from cooperating with federal immigration authorities seeking to deport a person. Figueroa walked into a police station in November 2015 to report his car stolen, according to the lawsuit. The civil action comes as San Francisco and dozens of other U.S. cities face pressure from President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on Friday, to abandon their policies of limiting cooperation between law enforcement officers and U.S. immigration authorities.

  • Photos of the day — January 17, 2017 (23 photos)

    Impoverished Indian children watch a performance as part of advocacy against child labor in Allahabad, India; women loyal to the Houthi movement parade to show support to the movement in Sanaa, Yemen; and dogs are blessed by a priest outside San Anton Church in the neighborhood of Churriana in Malaga on the day of Saint Anthony, Spain’s patron saint of animals. These are just a few of the photos of the day for January 17, 2017. See more news-related photo galleries and follow us on Yahoo News Photo Tumblr .

    Yahoo News Photo Staff
  • Cowboys delay talk of Romo's future, likely knowing answer

    FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Those closest to Tony Romo on the Cowboys aren't ready to discuss the future of the Dallas quarterback, probably because they know the likely final answer.

    Associated Press
  • Anger at skeletal sun bears in Indonesian zoo

    Animal rights activists Wednesday demanded the closure of an Indonesian zoo after skeletal sun bears were pictured begging for food from visitors and eating their own dung. The bears at the zoo in the city of Bandung were shown waving their arms in the air inside their enclosure -- with their ribs visible through their fur -- as people hurled food at them. Many of Indonesia's zoos are poorly maintained and there are regular reports of animals dying in captivity.

  • Deadly waves sweep father, son out to ocean, show dangers

    SALEM, Ore. (AP) — One moment, Jayson Thomas was on the Oregon beach with his 3-year-old son. The next, they were gone, swept away by a "sneaker wave" as his wife looked on.

    Associated Press
  • Teen Abducted 18 Years Ago Says She Will Have '2 Moms,' but Still Loves Accused Kidnapper

    She says she speaks to the accused kidnapper every day despite the woman's arrest for abducting her 18 years ago.

    Inside Edition
  • J.K. Rowling has a cutting response to Trump's quote about 'heroes'

    LONDON — It's surely only a matter of time before Donald Trump goes on a wild, 5am Twitter rant about J.K. Rowling. The Harry Potter author has been aiming a steady campaign of social media-based ribbing at the President-elect for a while now — and in the last week her volume of Trump-based burns have really peaked. SEE ALSO: J.K. Rowling just burned Donald Trump for the 2nd time in 24 hours This one started when journalist Daniel Dale shared an extract from Michael Gove's recent interview with Trump. The question was one about heroes. Trump was asked if he has any heroes. Answer: https://t.co/3idRsQFQoN pic.twitter.com/yGyjx1q1Bl — Daniel Dale (@ddale8) January 16, 2017 That's a lot of rambling to pick apart, but — luckily — J.K. Rowling was on hand to condense it into a helpful 140 characters: "Heroes? Me, because I am innately awesome and you can't learn this, but a bit my dad, who must've been kinda ok, cos he made me." https://t.co/WYJQ8chAxd — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 17, 2017 Ouch. Throughout the morning, Rowling has continued tweeting about Trump. @jk_rowling it is a sad life when one does not have heroes. — zeckle3 (@zeckle3) January 17, 2017  https://t.co/5z1V1TsYBm — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 17, 2017 Almost everyone in Europe dreads the Trump presidency. Everyone, except fascists - @alexmassie in @politicohttps://t.co/EzhdXUkNj4 — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 17, 2017 @jk_rowling @alexmassie @politico What if you’re neither dreading Trumps presidency or a fascist? — Luke Parker (@MrLParker) January 17, 2017 Then I want some of what you're smoking. https://t.co/pcXzOf1JZm — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 17, 2017 We're calling it: he's going to tweet something negative about Harry Potter any day now.  It's only a matter of time. BONUS: J.K. Rowling weighs in hard on the Donald Trump/Meryl Streep feud

  • Amid packing boxes and tears, staffers leaving White House

    WASHINGTON (AP) — They line up near the Oval Office, down the hallway toward the Cabinet Room, trailed by their spouses and young kids in their finest clothes. When it's their turn, the White House staffers enter for a few private moments with President Barack Obama, a photo and a farewell hug from the boss.

    Associated Press