MIAMI – The decision. The championships that he called for not one, not two, not three, … The mounting pressure to perform big on the NBA’s biggest stage.
But after the Miami Heat were eliminated from the NBA Finals on their home floor in Game 6 by the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night, it was evident that James did care judging by his harsh words for his detractors. About the only thing missing was Cee-Lo’s "Forget You" song playing in the background, which the Heat played during the Mavs' Game 1 introductions.
The Heat's LeBron James has faced playoff elimination eight times, losing six times in must-win games.
|'10||Celtics||East semis||6||8-21||27||19||10||L, 94-85|
|'09||Magic||East finals||6||8-20||25||7||7||L, 103-90|
|'09||Magic||East finals||5||11-24||37||14||12||W, 112-102|
|'08||Celtics||East semis||7||14-29||45||5||6||L, 97-92|
|'08||Celtics||East semis||6||9-23||32||12||6||W, 74-69|
|'06||Pistons||East semis||7||11-24||27||8||2||L, 79-61|
“All the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today,” James said. “They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that.
“They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”
That real world includes the Clevelanders he spurned, NBA fans who hated his nationally televised proclamation that he was headed to Miami and skeptics who felt he jumped into a get-championship-quick scheme. And Sunday night's tart response to the criticism was another log on an already hot fire.
Remember a year ago when James was the darling of the NBA? No one sold more jerseys, had more endorsements or received as much adulation as he did, besides Kobe Bryant(notes). And the two-time MVP deserved all of it. But on July 8, 2010, a lot of that love instantly disappeared after James departed his hometown-area of Cleveland to “take my talents to South Beach” after playing his entire basketball life in Ohio.
As soon as those words left his mouth, the value of the Cavaliers dropped in half. Cleveland fans cursed him, burned his jersey and hurled rocks at his mammoth Nike mural on a downtown building a stone's throw from Quicken Loans Arena. While James was in his right to decide wherever he wanted to go in free agency, the matter in which he did it in prime time turned most of the nation against him outside of South Florida.
Those close to James say he reads everything and is aware of the negativity tossed his way by the media. James begs to differ.
“I pretty much don't listen to what everybody has to say about me or my game or what I've done with my career,” James said. “I don't get involved in that. This is year after year after year for me. Me as an individual, people write or say what they want to say about me. It doesn't weigh on me at all.”
James should be worried about how Heat fans feel about him now.
[Related: Wetzel: Cleveland laughing at King James]
He will be remembered by averaging just 17.8 points, nine fewer than his regular-season scoring average, passing the ball like a hot potato and not scoring much in the fourth quarter in these Finals. It was a stunning letdown considering that James has widely been viewed as the best basketball player pound for pound in the world. Just a couple weeks earlier Scottie Pippen said James could be better than Michael Jordan. Now, even the most die hard Heat fans could have a hard time wearing that No. 6 jersey they previously wore with pride and swagger. The same swagger that James, Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) showed last July when they rubbed their arrival in the rest of the NBA's faces by taking part in that big promotional introduction at a packed AmericanAirlines Arena.
“The only thing that weighs on me is when I don't perform well for my teammates and the guys that I play for every day,” said James, who finished with 21 points in Game 6. “That's the only thing that weighs on me because I take pride in going out there and doing the things that need to be done to help my teammates win. That's it.”
Overall, James might be right. His life appears better than yours. Your problems are probably bigger than his, too. He can go back to his mansion in Akron with his millions of dollars from what he has already made in the NBA and his endorsements.
But will his corporate sponsors still love him the same now?
One high-ranking Nike executive has said the shoe company loves players who win championships. While the Heat as a team lost the Finals, the finger is pointed squarely at James. And forgotten in his talk about reality is this: James is now 2-8 overall in the Finals. The projected prolonged lockout will certainly give him plenty of time to re-live this recent Finals failure.
“It hurts of course,” James said. “ I'm not going to hang my head low. I know how much work as a team we put into it. I know how much work individually that I've put into it, when you guys are not around. That's something people don't see. I think you can never hang your head low when you know how much work, how much dedication you put into the game of basketball when the lights are off and the cameras are not on.”
After King James fell from his throne in these Finals, his skeptics could have felt satisfied that humility had arrived and justice was served. And yes, he did express some humility. But with his vocalized expectations that his naysayers will wake up with the reality of their same lives, the love will remain lost and the hating will grow.