On Saturday May 12th, LeBron James was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the third time in four seasons. This honor is, of course, a testament to an individual’s ability to maintain an elite level of play throughout an entire NBA regular season. With this being James’ third honor, acknowledging his abilities throughout an NBA season has become the norm. However, its LeBron’s abilities beyond the regular season that remains in question.
As he hoisted the MVP trophy on Saturday, King James became the first player in league history to earn the award three times WITHOUT an NBA Championship to his credit. The Akron native has been notoriously criticized for his shortcomings in the playoffs–most notably following his performance in last year’s NBA Finals. After ripping through the Eastern Conference with extraordinary play, the All-Star forward quickly disappeared when his team needed him most. This very disappointing ending to the Heat’s 2011 season continued the backlash in the 27-year-old’s direction. Often seen as a player that lacks killer instinct and the ability to close out games, LeBron’s showing in the championship series only enhanced those thoughts.
James' outlook towards redemption in this year’s playoffs didn’t help to dispel any doubt. In an April interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, he and teammate Dwayne Wade were asked if the 2012 season would be a failure if they didn’t win a championship.
"The season won't be a failure," James said. "You put too much work into a season to automatically call it a failure, but it would be a disappointment. This is our goal. This is what we've come together for. A failure is a strong word. We commit ourselves and we dedicate our season, we work hard every day and to automatically say it's a failure, I think that's a big word. But I think it'd be a disappointment, because that's what you work hard for every day."
Wade’s approach to this situation was much different. "I say yes," he said. "There's only one champion. It's a failure for every other team. If you don't win a championship, you had a failed year." The comments by the two superstars are exactly why Wade is seen as the team’s closer and true leader, while LeBron plays the secondary role.
With the 2012 playoffs well underway, King James has steamrolled through the competition just as he did in the previous year. In six games, the three-time MVP has averaged 27.8 ppg, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, while leading the Heat to a 5-1 playoff record. After two Finals losses, the most physically gifted athlete in league history will hope that three will be his magic number.
Steve Rivers has contributed to The Source, ESPN Rise and a host of other online publications. Follow him on Twitter: @TheKidSkoob.