The look in LeBron James' eyes told you the score. From the very moment he took to the hardwood for Sunday’s high stakes Game 7 finale of the Eastern Conference Finals, just what the final score or margin of separation would be almost seemed irrelevant.
For this point and time was about so much more than just basketball. How could it not be, given the magnitude and depth of the opponent LeBron James was truly facing? Self-doubt, wavering confidence and personal insecurities where all in the house that night, willing, able and ready to again have the 27-year-old Miami Heat star more or less defeat himself.
Forget about what team you repped, how could not at least a part of you be on the side of assuring growth and self-preservation? In that way, The King was you; he was me… he was all of us rolled into one.
“He’s always pushing himself out of his comfort zone and we’re always pushing him out of it because it’s what this team so desperately needs from him,” said Miami coach Eric Spoelstra. "He was absolutely brilliant, and we all know it. He’s playing at a historic level during the playoffs. We do not take his talent or his will or competiveness for granted.”
And yet, somehow the jury still largely remains out on LBJ. Has been and will be until he secures the requisite hardware the standards by which all the greats are at least partially judged upon. In finding standing up to the legendary Boston Celtics, James took a huge step in again confronting his demons face to face.
Say what you will about Kevin Garnett, suspect sportsmanship and floundering averages over the last two games, he and his band of ageless warriors weren’t about to make things easy for King James. To them, all his endorsement deals and commercial appeal seemed to mean about as much as they did to the public at large around this time last year when the King again failed to rule.
And yet, during Sunday’s most critical moments, LeBron James still rose. Rose to swish home the game’s most critical baskets, thereby rescuing his team and legacy at a time in which one of his signature moments may have never been more in demand.
"I can't worry about what people say about me,” about my game, about who I as a person,” James bemoaned. “People have their own opinions, and rightfully so.”
It’s all a process and, as such, at times the look on LeBron James face belied his words. Left you wondering just who he was trying to convince more his detractors or himself.
“Everybody should relax a little bit,” said Keyon Dooling, whose Celtics crew had just been extinguished by James. “He is great for our game; he is our game. We need to uplift him instead of trying to tear him down."
As James suffered through still more growing pains during last year’s finals against Dallas, former high school coach Keith Dambrot looked on. Over the summer, he and James spoke and perhaps no words have resonated more with James than the ones Dambrot shared with his one-time prodigy.
“I told him he's got to get back to doing what he thinks is right, not what he's supposed to think is right or what anyone else thinks is right. I just kept telling him, put the raincoat on, let all this roll off.”
The battle doesn’t get any easier at this point, not with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and all of the Oklahoma City Thunder brood waiting in the wings to again vanquish his realest dreams. But after Sunday’s make-or-break Game 7, LeBron James was still in the game. And in that, we all should find a least a bit of solace.
Glenn Minnis is a veteran sports and culture writer who has contributed to the likes of ESPN, Vibe and the NFL Magazine. He has also been on staff at AOL Sports, the Chicago Tribune and was the founding sports editor for 360HipHop.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.