By Kelly B. McGillivray
When LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach, the whole nation responded. It became instant news, full of images of torched jerseys, billboards in heaps on the sidewalk, and even the now famous all caps rant in Comic Sans by Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert, complete with a personal guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win an NBA Championship “before the self-titled former King wins one.”
But what people didn’t care to think about was how this would change LeBron. He later fired back, via twitter, that he was “taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at him” this past summer. And now the NBA is starting to understand what LeBron meant.
Welcome to LeBron James 2.0: (which is what I’m going to refer to LeBron as) a more aggressive, intense, and scariest of all, better LeBron James. On top of that, at least to me, it seems that 2.0 looks bigger and stronger than his Cleveland days, which doesn’t bode well for opponents. In teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who decides to show up every once in a while and prove he’s worth the $110 million Miami has to pay him, (like he did in Game 4 against Boston with the late tip-in) 2.0 had his ups and downs during the regular season, doing so under a constant microscope. There was a bump with head coach Eric Spoelstra early in the season that made the media rounds and was critiqued from every angle, his inability to hit shots in the final seconds of games, and a regular season that did not go as Miami had hoped. But in these playoffs, 2.0 has seemed to embrace the Us against the World mentality, which so far has taken the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals.
He closed out the Boston Celtics in a ruthless, almost revenge-like manner. He matched Ray Allen shot for shot in Game 4, hitting two huge 3 pointers late, including one directly in front of a Boston bench that was doing their best to distract him. In Game 5, he fed off the momentum started by James Jones’ 3 pointer with 3:43 left, a shot he assisted on, turning that into two 3 pointers, a steal and uncontested dunk, and an icing-on-the-cake bank shot that sent the defending Eastern Conference Champions home.
So the real question is: why now?
Teamed up with a legit #2, or 1A, however you see it, LeBron seems to have more confidence in his game knowing there’s D Wade right with him to match his intensity. At the same time, LeBron knows that not everything has to be done by him, a feeling he never felt in Cleveland. Their collective talent and energy have pushed 2.0 to a level that have the Heat in a position to do something they intended to do, in the words of LeBron himself “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” times. The Heat are eight wins away from getting to the first one.
The target is on their back, in that fiery shade of Heat red. And what better color to have than red, when staring straight back at them is a team of Bulls, led by the youngest MVP in the history of the NBA in Derrick Rose? The Philadelphia 76ers were breakfast, which must make the Boston Celtics lunch. Dinner is being served, and the Heat are hungrier than ever. LeBron’s stomach is empty, and so is his ring finger. Come late June he hopes to have finished dessert, and wear a ring that shines brighter than a South Beach summer sun, for the first of what LeBron, D Wade and company hope will be the first of not five, not six, not seven…
Kelly B. McGillivray can be found on Twitter @kellybmcg