Now that LeBron James is universally regarded as the most clutch basketball player of his era, it's hard to imagine a time when people thought he couldn't handle big moments. Yet if only a few bounces had gone the other way in one of the first games of the NBA Finals, or the Heat hadn't been able to get past the Pacers or Celtics without Chris Bosh, opinions might be very different right now.
It turns out, though, that LeBron might have seen that clutch reputation diminished even after the Heat had clinched the series against the Thunder. That's because, in the wake of the win, LeBron misplaced his Finals MVP trophy. From Lee Jenkins' must-read LeBron James profile for Sports Illustrated (via TBJ):
He punctuated one of the best regular seasons in the modern era with one of the best playoffs, leading the Heat with 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists, while shooting 50% and guarding everyone from Carmelo Anthony to Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook to Kevin Durant. But after James retreated to the locker room, where teammates bathed him in a Budweiser--Dom Perignon cocktail, he caught a scare. He couldn't find his Finals MVP trophy.
"Where's my trophy?" James hollered, rummaging through his locker. "I left it right here!" He rushed through the tunnel back to the court, where he had to give an interview, but the moment it ended he asked, "Have you seen my trophy? Who took my trophy?" On the way to the press conference, where the MVP trophy was waiting all along, he relaxed a bit. "It's just an individual award, anyway," he says. "It's not the one that matters." He took the Larry O'Brien trophy from the podium and cradled it like a third son, and when friends offered to help carry it down a hallway, he waved them off.
Just imagine if James had actually lost the trophy moments after winning it. For a guy with a reputation as not so great in the clutch, he would have given his critics plenty of room to claim that he still didn't have what it takes to win. I mean, claiming a title is nice, but most people expect the best players to hold on to their trophies after the fact. How else do you prove that it really happened?
[Marc J. Spears: Steve Nash won't lack for free-agent options]
Luckily, James found the trophy and likely now has it placed somewhere safe, or at least has hired several dozen large men to guard it. Whatever the case, it appears that LeBron has overcome his past failures and will hold on to all trophies from now on. That's the sign of a true winner, as well as someone who knows the importance of trophies to interior decorating.
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