As the final seconds ticked away during the Miami Heat's Game 5 121-106 drubbing of the Oklahoma City Thunder, all the vitriol and venom spewed at Lebron James and the Miami Heat over the past two years vanished into thin air.
Vanished like the chalk Lebron used to toss in the air during his pregame ritual.
Vanished like James Harden's game during these NBA Finals.
Vanished like the deeply held beliefs of those who were sure that Lebron just wasn't championship material.
Oh, there are still tiny particles of that vitriol that will always linger. There will be those that say this championship is tainted because of the shortened season and because of injuries to key players like Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard.
For as long as basketball is played on this Earth, the Miami Heat will forever and indisputably be the 2012 NBA Champions.
It's amazing how a month can change everything isn't it?
On May 17th, the Heat lost to the Indiana Pacers 94-75 to go down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Heat were left for dead. There were debates on which member of the Big Three would be traded and whether or not Dwayne Wade was over the hill.
And then James decided he had had enough. From that point on, the MVP went on a historical playoff run and dismissed his biggest criticisms one by one.
James couldn't play with Dwayne Wade.
In Game 4 against Indiana, "The 'King" put up a ridiculous 40 point, 18 rebound, 9 assist effort, while simultaneously meshing perfectly with Wade who scored 30 of his own. Without Chris Bosh to lean on, the two superstars realized it was up to them to get the Heat into the next round. For the rest of that series, they played as well as they ever have together.
James wasn't clutch in big games.
In Game 6 in Boston, James' legacy was seemingly on the line. The Heat were on the verge of being ousted by a creaky, yet proud Boston Celtics team who were looking for one last championship of their own Big Three era. Once again, it seemed like Lebron would come up short when it counted most. Lose to Boston and it could mean the end of the Heat's talented trio before it ever even got started and add to the cloud hanging over James' head.
As the vultures circled over the TD Garden in Boston, James put up a virtuoso performance in which he scored 45 points and grabbed 15 boards, while completely dominating every facet of the game. The Celtics never had a chance. Lebron put the Heat on his shoulders and forced a Game 7 back in Miami, where the Heat were able to put the nail in the coffin of the Celtics' championship hopes.
James didn't have any heart.
As tired as the cliche is, many of his critics believed it was a valid one. It isn't anymore. With Game 3 of the NBA Finals knotted at 94 and Lebron suffering from leg cramps, James rose up over Thabo Sefolosha for a three and knocked down the biggest shot of his life. That shot epitomized what those that like to use the cliche call "heart". Barely able to walk, Lebron wasn't going to stay on the bench or let someone else take that shot. It was his time. He willed that shot to go in.
Interestingly though, what may have been the most enlightening take away from the Heat's championship run was not James' play. We knew all along he had that in him. Rather, it was his comments after the game:
"Losing in the Finals last year put me back in place. It humbled me a lot. I was able to go back to the basics. A lot of people had a lot to do with it, but at the end of the day, I just looked myself in the mirror and said, 'You need to be better'."
Everyone wondered how he would respond to the pain of losing last year's NBA Finals. Some though it was proof that he would never win it. Others believed it was exactly what he and the Miami Heat needed to finally push them over the top.
If you listen to Dwayne Wade, it was necessary for their team to grow stronger, "But we had to go through what we had to go through last year. We needed to. And as much as it hurt, we had to go through that pain and suffering. To get to this point of this season and the rest of our careers together, we'll take nothing for granted."
So, if you're willing to believe James and Wade, losing to the Dallas Mavericks gave them the experience they needed to reach this point. They needed to lose for Wade to step aside and let the Heat become Lebron's team. They needed to lose for James to look himself in the mirror and finally understand what it would take to win a championship. They needed to lose for James to find the fuel that would allow him to prove all the doubters wrong.
The quotes that were once punchlines, you know, the 'taking my talents to South Beach' stuff, don't seem so funny anymore.
The 'not one, not two, not three, not four,' line is no longer something for everyone to laugh at.
It just might be a foreshadowing of what's to come.