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NBA Playoffs: Witnessing the ascension

May 12, 2011, 3:22 AM EDT

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Getty Images

This was the dream. For all the criticism, the spontaneous hatred from people he never met in cities he’d never lived, for the questions and the scrutiny, this was what he had hoped for. When LeBron James decided to abandon the franchise that drafted him and pursue a team that didn’t think Wally Sczcerbiak/Ben Wallace/Mo Williams/Antawn Jamison was the answer to pushing a franchise over the top, it was in the hopes of getting past the Celtics.

The funny part is, in the end, it was James doing it himself anyway. While it may not have been possible without Dwyane Wade making one huge key play after another, it was still James finishing the game with 10 straight points. It was James taking over, James clamping down on Pierce, James unleashing a volcano of pent-up emotion which led the Heat into the conference finals and left the Celtics in their Mesozoic Era.

Heat 97 Celtics 87.

Afterwards, James was apologetic about the Decision, respectful towards the Celtics, humble about his career. There was no dancing, no preening, no over-the-top indulgence. Maybe he learned from the past three years of braggadocio and the reaction to the formation of the Heat. Maybe he didn’t. But Tuesday night represented the beginning of LeBron James’ reclamation project, the path from pariah back to “Chosen One’ status. Everyone will still hate him tomorrow that hated him Tuesday night, but they’ll respect him more.  His talents were stunning apparent at the end of Game 5, in the steal that became the dunk, and 3-pointers which should have been impossible.  There was no way to deny it Tuesday night. If LeBron James isn’t the best player in basketball, he shares that honor.

Winning is supposed to heal all wounds. It won’t make Cleveland feel any better, New York any less slighted, Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles any less resentful. But James taking the step forward, downing the Celtics, signifies a move out of NBA adolescence, which James has been stuck in for years, since the infamous Detroit game, really. James grew up in this series against the Celtics. He closed games. He hit clutch shots. He didn’t abandon hope and sulk away when things didn’t go his way. Was it easier since he was surrounded by so much talent? Absolutely. But the story here is that evolution.

By the same token, it can come crashing down just as quickly if the same demons that have chased his game in the form of the Celtics simply inhabit Bulls colors. A failure next round and all this advancement means is that the Celtics have really fallen that far.  But for a night, the Heat vanquished the Celtics, and James has moved into a new stage in his career.

Game 5 was his finest moment, even better than the Detroit Game 5. It was a bigger stage, as counterintuitive as that sounds considering the Detroit series clinched his way to his first and only Finals appearance. This was when everyone was watching, waiting for him to fail. The Celtics were supposed to close him out, to shut him down. And instead, James took over, finishing with emotion and command. Maybe it was nothing more than a good game against a team whose timer had run out.

But it felt like more.

It was a classic performance, capping off a classic series from James. The ten straight points will be remembered most. But it was James, feeding James Jones on an outlet, trusting his teammate to make a big shot that defines the breadth of James’ game. He came, he saw, he conquered. Against the team that embodied defense, chemistry, greatness in the East over the past four seasons, James rose to the occasion, finally.

For a player who had been given so much before he’d earned it, who had been titled King before he had a kingdom, it felt like an ascension.  It wasn’t how people wanted him to do it, and he may never be forgiven. But maybe LeBron’s ready to be King of his jungle, finally.

  1. digitalpoo - May 12, 2011 at 3:35 AM

    Amazing stuff… I don’t even think Lebron knows how to act.

    • gofish721 - May 12, 2011 at 1:30 PM

      Is this the same LBJ that walked off the court after getting eliminated and didn’t bother to shake hands. Didn’t know how to act then either. Wonder how many Heat fans lambasted him then but now worship his every move. Let’s see how he acts if he gets eliminated before we crown him.

      Story was also about his “ascension”. Seems he didn’t ascend but ran to become D-wade’s b!tch. He can never be compared to Bird, Johnson and Jordan’s greatness. Those guys made their own team… Jordan especially. Queen James had to run to someone else’s court to win (maybe). Long live queen James. Should have gone to NY to make “his” team.

      • bils293 - May 13, 2011 at 1:38 PM

        if you watched the game wednesday night you would have seen all the celtics aside from delonte west and ray allen walk off the court without shaking hands…when lebron does it everyone makes it national news but one the celtics do no one seems to notice

  2. edweird0 - May 12, 2011 at 3:48 AM

    Very enjoyable article, couldn’t have said it better myself. But I think you summed it up best when you said “By the same token, it can come crashing down just as quickly if the same demons that have chased his game in the form of the Celtics simply inhabit Bulls colors.”

  3. savocabol1 - May 12, 2011 at 7:55 AM

    You can spin it all you want but I don’t get why you reporters are writing articles like this is some big accomplishment for the Heat. Pretty much anything but a finals appearence would be a failure for this team for the entire time they are together. They have three of the top echelon players in the NBA (Bosh is very debatable).

    Apologizing, being humble, blah blah blah, he is only doing it because Lebron got this far. I would bet my life savings he would be acting completely differently if he quit on the Heat like he did for the Cavs and the Heat didn’t advance. The Heat are going to win a championship because no one team can stop them from here out. And that is exactly what the NBA wants.

    • southbeachtalent - May 12, 2011 at 9:03 AM

      He quit on the Cavs? Lets see his stats in the 2009-10 Orlando series shall we?

      Game: pts as rbs
      1 49 8 6
      2 35 5 4
      3 41 9 7
      4 44 7 12
      5 37 12 14
      6 25 7 7

      Yea horrible….. He had a bad game 6 by his standards, if that’s quiting then the rest of the league should retire. He played incredibly well that series, down right amazing. For anyone to say that he didn’t give it his all or that he quit is beyond rediculous.

      Stop repeating what everyone else is saying and do some research that way you don’t sound like a tool. Have a great day.

      Celtics…. R.I.P.

      • savocabol1 - May 12, 2011 at 9:22 AM

        get your facts straight you bandwagon heat fan. if you watched one minute of the playoffs last year you would have more than some ESPN facts to bring to the table rookie.

      • bovice23 - May 12, 2011 at 11:22 AM

        Ummm the Cavs didnt play the Magic in the 09-10 playoffs, they played Boston and lost in 6 because Lebron James quit in game 5 and 6. During the Magic series in 08-09 he played his heart out and lost and no one blames him for that. Cavs never blamed LeBron for anything before that series and would have supported him for the rest of his life if he would have stayed regardless if he ever won a championship.

      • andrejohnsonforpresident - May 12, 2011 at 1:32 PM

        He quit?? Really?? How about the fact that he’s easily the best player in the NBA and the team the cavs put around him was easily the worst in the NBA.

        “Wally Sczcerbiak/Ben Wallace/Mo Williams/Antawn Jamison”

        Minus jamison ( Who never showed up like the cavs thought he would) this team is garbage. A washed up ben wallace and mo willams!!! Mo fricken i’m lucky i was in the spot light at all willams. Come on guys, MJ himself could not have lead this team to a championship victory. This is what happens with low money markets. The cavs increaed by 200 mil in revenue (I believe it was from 250 mil to 500 mil or something close to that) after james got there for a reason. The owner was never going to put a winning team around him. Get over this he quit stuff its annoying. You would all leave that team to if you were in his situation.

  4. andyhr17 - May 12, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    don’t think he was referring to LeBron against the Magic. He was talking about last year when he quit on the Cavs against the Celtics. You probably didn’t watch that though since like most Heat fans you became a fan of the NBA in the summer of 2010.

    • hnirobert3 - May 12, 2011 at 9:50 AM

      LBJ stats from that series. Keep in mind that they were playing a Celtics team that was a Kendrick Perkins knee injury away from winning the championship and the whole Gloria James/Delonte thing happening sometime during the series (one would think it was discovered around game 4).

      PTS: 35 AST: 7 REB: 7
      PTS: 24 AST: 4 REB: 7
      PTS: 38 AST: 7 REB: 8
      PTS: 22 AST: 8 REB: 9
      PTS: 15 AST: 7 REB: 6
      PTS: 27 AST: 10 REB: 19

      I don’t think that’s quiting. I don’t think Pau Gasol just quit on the Lakers. Of course there are two completely different situations, but sometimes off the court drama gets in the head of an athlete and effects their game. The fact that in their elimination game he pulled a 27/10/19 is outstanding. Not quiting.

      • dolphinphan - May 12, 2011 at 10:38 AM

        couldnt have said it better myself. For us heat fans who were fans before this Summer, I for one can tell you, at first yea, I did think he quit on the Cavs, but after learning of the off the court drama, and understanding by watching him this year, that he ACTUALLY IS HUMAN, and has bad games, like he did a few games this series against the Celtics, tells me he didn’t quit. He just couldn’t do it alone, hence the entire reason he came to Miami to partner with Wade. Like he’s said in almost every post game presser, he needed another star to help him win, its a team game, not an individual game.

      • dolphinphan - May 12, 2011 at 10:43 AM

        round 2. game 3. Heat v Celtics. Lebron drops 15/7/4. Do you think he quit on the Heat game 3 also?

      • bovice23 - May 12, 2011 at 11:36 AM

        Did you guys watch game 5 and 6 of that series? Lebron’s game consisted of standing at the 3 point line for three quarters and jacking up terrible shots or passing the ball back to whoever passed it to him right after he caught it. In the 4th or when the game was outta reach he decided to drive and get garage points. It was like watching a completely different person out there, he quit in those two games.

      • southbeachtalent - May 12, 2011 at 1:53 PM

        Yep those are the right numbers, I pulled the numbers from the year before that. Regardless they are good.

    • southbeachtalent - May 12, 2011 at 2:01 PM

      Nope I watched every second of it. I was born and raised in Miami and have been a fan all the home town teams since I could watch. I did pull the wrong numbers, but the point is LeBron has never quit that’s what makes him a two time mvp and arguably the best player in the world.

      LeBron was frustrated, happens to all the greats when their stuck in a crappy team. Hell Wade got swept by the Celtics last year and he looked very frustrated when they lost, its part of the game. Regardless bring the hate we love it! BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

      • cosanostra71 - May 12, 2011 at 3:21 PM

        bovice23 – May 12, 2011 at 11:36 AM

        Did you guys watch game 5 and 6 of that series? Lebron’s game consisted of standing at the 3 point line for three quarters and jacking up terrible shots or passing the ball back to whoever passed it to him right after he caught it

        That’s what LeBron’s game always consists of… for as good as he is with the ball, he is absolutely horrible off the ball.

  5. savvybynature - May 12, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    I’m not saying he did quit on his team, but showing some impressive game stats is not really relevant to the conversation.
    It’s about what he did at the end of the game, when things weren’t going well. You don’t get that from game stats, you need to watch the video to decide.

    • southbeachtalent - May 12, 2011 at 1:54 PM

      Oh here we go with body language,,,

      So you’re saying that the actual output (stats) doesn’t matter it’s his body language that really counts…..yea that makes sense.

  6. andrejohnsonforpresident - May 12, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    O an btw great article. Anyone else get goose bumps when they watch james hit that 3 over pierce and then he just stands there and stairs.

    • adowding3 - May 12, 2011 at 2:27 PM

      All you fake Heat fans make me sick. Paying attention to the local team is now in style, sending everyone to career stat sheets to defend their hero and make it sound like they know what their talking about.

      If you are a real fan of the Heat, winning it all in 2006 should give you more a bigger thrill than a jumper in the eastern semis.

      Oh well. At least i know the difference between stairs and stares.

      • andrejohnsonforpresident - May 12, 2011 at 6:13 PM

        haha ouch don’t hate on my firefox auto speller. It helps with my currently broken hand. Also believe me 2006 was a great year. I’d take that team with shaq over the big 3 any day. (big shaq fan). I’m more of an admirer of star athletes and the game in general because of how little competition 60% of the teams offer on a yearly basis.

        and i’ll refrain from calling out your grammatical errors in your second sentence.

  7. wakiash - May 12, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    Just remember he quit on the Cavaliers, and rode the coattails of a decent Miami Heat team. I used to have great respect for the man until he walked off the court during last year’s playoff. Remember Miami, he will do the same to you the minute things go wrong.

    • southbeachtalent - May 12, 2011 at 2:33 PM

      Im sure he is devastated that he lost your respect….just devastated.

      Unlike some crazy unreasonable fans we understand that he may get frustrated at times. Hell there was a week worth of stories when he appeared to bump Spoelstra on a timeout. We didnt rush to burn his jersey, we understand he is human.

      As far as riding coat tails… the Heat rode his coat tail in the closing minutes of the 4th qtr yesterday.

    • borderline1988 - May 12, 2011 at 9:50 PM

      “Rode the coattails of a decent Miami Heat team”

      Did you watch the video posted up there? In a tie game with 2.5 minutes left in the 4th, against arguably one of the best closing teams in NBA history, Lebron James single-handedly ripped the Celtics to shreds with 10 straight points.

      Besides for Dwayne Wade, this Heat team isn’t much better than the Cavs team that James was on in previous years.
      Last year, the Celtics figured out how to stop Lebron (basically defend him aggresively and stack defenders on the strong side of the ball, forcing Lebron to drive into traffic or pass the ball away). When that happened, the Cavs had no answers, noone else who could pick up the slack and force the Celtics to adjust. The Cavs had no choice but to keep the ball in Lebron’s hands. Lebron still put up a vailant effort, but considering that his own teammates were ice cold in the series (Mo Williams, Jamison, etc.), they had no chance.
      Dwayne Wade is such a threat to score and that opens up Lebrons game. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands for 48 minutes/game, and can run pick and rolls, wait for the ball, give more energy on defense and in transition. Huge difference between last year

  8. T.C. R - May 12, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    This article is as masterfully crafted as Lebron’s final moments in the Game 5 close out of the C’s.

  9. Chris Ross - May 12, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    I think the whole not clutch going away after a couple of big shots is pretty ridiculous. Lebron has been given so many opportunities to succeed at the end of games that it was about time he made some big shots. He’s such a good player that it’s almost like he was due. Law of averages. Well not really, but he’s going to have to do it more consistently for the label to go away. I’m a Lebron hater so I’m definitely biased, seeing as I don’t want to see that label leave him.

  10. 1historian - May 12, 2011 at 4:10 PM

    I hate to agree with the guy but he’s right.

    Go Bulls, Hawks, Thunder, Grizzlies, Mavericks. ANYBODY but Miami.

  11. mikeinthevine - May 12, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    LeBron is a punk and will always be a punk. He isn’t known as LeQuit for nothing. ABM.

  12. edweird0 - May 12, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    @mikeinthevine people such as yourself baffle me. I wonder how much longer after they win a championship you’ll be willing to ride that hatred. Get over yourself, it’s in the past for a reason. It happened, move on and let it be. People get past mistakes they once made and grow up to be more mature. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s happening right before your eyes. You can deny it all you want but you’re only going to be able to sustain those illusions of grandeur for only so much longer.

  13. sgm405 - May 12, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    People overlooking two huge things concerning this topic amuses me:

    1) In 2009-2010, Cleveland was 61-21 and the favorite to win the Eastern Conference until LeBron’s mysterious “elbow injury” (or as those who watched the series know, when he quit). In 2010-2011, Miami was 58-24, three games worse than the Cavaliers. Yet, according to LeBron and Heat frontrunners, that Cavs team (that, again, had a better record than this year’s Heat) around him was crap.

    2) Multiple reports surfaced after “The Decision” that said the Cavaliers had a sign-and-trade in place for Chris Bosh…Bosh just had to agree to it. Amare Stoudemire said that had LeBron stayed and the Cavaliers would have traded for him, he would have signed a long-term extension. Simply put, all LeBron had to do was talk one of the two into coming to Cleveland, which he surely could have done.

    The Cavaliers were already good enough to win it all, and could have become even better this season had LeBron committed to stay. ESPN “experts”, LeBron-apologists, and Heat-frontrunners will say otherwise, but LeBron only has LeBron to blame for not bringing a championship to Cleveland like he promised to do.

    • borderline1988 - May 12, 2011 at 10:02 PM

      Cleveland was 61-21 because of Lebron only, plain and simple. If you need any proof, just look at the Cavs this year. From best to worst in one season. They set the NBA records for the longest losing streak.
      Fact is, Cleveland is nothing but an awful, awful team without Lebron.

      Also, we can speculate all we want about Bosh or Stoudemire coming to the Cavs. But you, nor any other fan knew what went on behind the scenes, whether that had any chance of materializing or not. I assume that Lebron would have stayed if he was guaranteed a bona-fide all-star as a running mate.
      What we do know is that Cleveland’s management failed to put playoff performers around Lebron (Mo Willams, Jamison, Big Z, Anthony Parker, etc. just don’t cut it).

      • sgm405 - May 13, 2011 at 10:45 PM

        1) The Cavaliers also lost Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Delonte West in the offseason, then lost Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison for huge chunks of the year. LeBron leaving obviously hurt the Cavs in a big way, but he wasn’t the only reason they were bad.

        2) 2009-10 Cavs > 2010-11 Heat (when LeBron was trying), so I’m not sure how he didn’t have the supporting cast.

        3) Stoudemire actually said he would’ve been a Cavalier had LeBron re-signed…that came straight from his mouth. Brian Windhorst, the best NBA writer in the league, reported that the Bosh deal was on the table but Bosh said no, knowing he was going to Miami. So yeah, LeBron could’ve had a 2nd all-star with him in Cleveland. Unfortunately for Cavs fans, he ha decided he was leaving about a year prior to hitting free agency.

  14. cosanostra71 - May 12, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    Who wants to bet southbeachtalent’s user tag was akronsfinest last year?

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