Friday 23 March 2018

James proves he can go all the way

Lebron James is walking down the street when he's stopped by a beggar who asks him for money. The Miami Heat star hands him a dollar. "Thanks, man," says the panhandler, "I thought you only had three quarters."

There were a lot of jokes like that doing the rounds about the world's greatest basketball player since Michael Jordan. Jokes about his supposed tendency to fade in the final quarter of games, his inability to land winning shots in the dying seconds and most of all his failure to win an NBA title.

He might be the fourth highest paid sportsman on the planet, after Mayweather, Pacquaio and Tiger, but there was always going to be a question mark next to the name of a great player who couldn't land the biggest honour in his sport. In 2007, he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the finals and played badly as they got whitewashed 4-0 by the San Antonio Spurs. Last year, he was below par again when his hot favourite Miami Heat team lost 4-2 to a Dirk Nowitzki-inspired Dallas Mavericks. The jokes, and the whispers, didn't stop.

They can stop now. Because ten days ago the Heat completed a 4-1 finals victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder to lift the monkey off their star player's back. This time round James raised his game at the right moment, delivering his first triple-double of the season, 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in the clinching encounter. But the season had turned the way of the Heat a couple of weeks previously when, with his team trailing 3-2 in the conference finals to the Boston Celtics and playing in Boston, James gave perhaps the best display of his career, scoring 45 points as the Heat tied a series they went on to win.

It was LeBron's season. He won six NBA Player of the Week awards when no one else did better than two. And he also won his third MVP Award, drawing level with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and moving to within two of Michael Jordan and three of record holder Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But none of that would have meant anything had he not finally broken his finals jinx.

June was some month for the man who got his education at St Vincent-St Mary in the Ohio city of Akron where the school nickname is The Fighting Irish. Maybe we can claim him.

Today he stands at the summit of his sport, a genius in the mould of Bolt and Messi. Not bad for a guy born to a 16-year-old mother and an ex-convict father who hit the road when LeBron was born. He knew poverty as a kid and spent time in foster care. His mother's boyfriend did time in jail on drugs and fraud charges.

But sport, James has said, "carried me away from being in a gang or being associated with drugs. Sports was my way out."

And maybe that's the great glory of sport. It doesn't care where you're from, it cares where you're at. Long live King James.

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