The "Summer of LeBron" is over. Tonight LeBron James announced he will be joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh which virtually hands the Eastern Conference Championship to the Miami Heat. This is by far the most grown up, independent decision James has made since joining the NBA seven years ago. A few of his fans in Cleveland aren't showing the same kind of maturity, burning James' uniform just minutes after the announcement was made.
James has been remembered to this stage in his career for his incredible talent in a 6' 8" frame. He is unselfish and sees the floor like Magic Johnson, combines the athleticism, skill, and competitive drive of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, and is every bit as dominant as Shaquille O'Neal in his prime. However, it has taken immature gaffs like storming off the floor after losing the 2008 Western Conference Final and missing the post-series press conference along with seven years of futility in Cleveland that brought LeBron to this decision. He understands how much heavy lifting it takes to carry a franchise to a title without a talented supporting cast.
Magic had Kareem and Worthy, Bird had Parish and McHale, and Isaiah had Dumars, Laimbeer, and Rodman in the 1980's. Jordan and Pippen dominated the 1990's but gave Olajuwon, Horry, "The Jet" Smith,and Cassell two chances at the trophy. The Lakers have dominated the 2000-2010 with five titles, the first three with Shaq, Kobe, and Fish and the last two years with Kobe, Fish, and Gasol. The San Antonio Spurs with Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker and the Celtics with Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Allen benefited when the Lakers imploded and before retooling.
LeBron says he understands history in the NBA, what it takes to win. He is deferring by joining D-Wade's team in Miami, a fact even King James alluded to in the interview. As everybody knew, barring an eleventh hour trade by Cleveland to pull LeBron back home, Miami did the most in this off-season to make themselves championship contenders for many years to come. This move only works because James, Wade, and Bosh were willing to sign for less money than they could have had if signing with their teams independently.
This is a terrific sign for the NBA where unselfish superstars have been overshadowed by a perception of money hungry , me-only players. James, Wade, and Bosh are ushering in a new age of basketball that puts the team first.
Howvever, Pat Riley's work is far from complete. Signing the big three makes his job of filling the roster much easier. It appears Michael Beasley is on the fast track out of south beach to clear some cap space and allow Riley to sign up much-needed support for the triumverate.
The moves Riley makes in the next few months will determine whether the Heat will win the title next year. Students of the NBA understand that there need to be Dennis Johnsons, Byron Scotts, Michael Coopers, John Paxsons, Steve Kerrs, Robert Horrys, Derek Fishers, and even a Ron Artest or two to make crucial plays that mean the difference in a championship series.
Obviously, my heart will always be with the Lakers past, present, and future. They've given me such joy and will continue to do so next year if Andrew Bynum can finally play an injury-free season. However, with Kobe in his 30's and the toll of injuries/grind of last season a generation of Heat fans will have a chance to feel the same.
One thing to remember...when Kobe teamed with LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh among other superstars in the Olympics a few years back, Kobe Bean Bryant was the one they all looked to in crunch time against Pau Gasol and Spain to win the gold medal.
Kobe is still the alpha dog in the NBA fight for the Championship seeking his second "three-peat.". Will he play the role of Heracles, with help of Pao Gasol/Derek Fisher/Ron Artest/Lamar Odom/Andrew Bynum taking turns playing his able assistant Iolaus, slay the Hydra that is living in Miami?
The 2010-11 NBA season will be a battle of the titans! Buckle up! It's gonna be a bumpy ride!!!