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Champion of the people

Lebron, born again and again


VELODROME-SIZE GRIN: Miami Heat's LeBron James (top) with the 2013 NBA Finals trophy and MVP award after Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game series. (Above) Stooping to conquer as a young fan reaches to touch him after the win

He may lack the grace of a Michael Jordan, but the lumbering LeBron James is a champion of the people.

It was Game 5 of the NBA finals in 2012. Miami Heat's Mario Chalmers celebrated a foul on a Oklahoma City Thunder team member rather extravagantly. LeBron James quietly pulled him aside and spoke to him, his stern body language suggesting that it was too early to celebrate.

Few moments later, with Miami Heat closing in on the title and LeBron on the verge of his first NBA championships, he finally broke into his velodromewide grin.

The Most Criticized Athlete in United States was finally winning what was his by birthright. A year later, in 2013, there were more question marks as San Antonio Spurs put the Miami Heat, and more importantly, LeBron James to test. Spurs lead the final series of seven games three times before Miami finally strung together back-to-back win to subdue Spurs and win their second NBA title.

LeBron was born for basketball, born for NBA glory but when the coronation time was getting delayed, questions were raised about his ability. LeBron was meant was greatness, he was supposed to be a new Sheriff in Town.

The great Magic Johnson himself owned that title once in the 1980s along with Larry Bird as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics fought their legendary battles. Then came the Chicago Bulls era and Michael Jordan took over the sobriquet. Kobe Bryant's Lakers challenged Jordan's supremacy and were the best ball players in the new millennium.

With the turn of the first decade in the millennium, everybody waited for LeBron to take over. In between came Dallas and Dirk Nowitzky whose workaholic culture upended the superstar culture of LeBron and his men.
It was finally in 2012 that LeBron stood where he belonged, the centre of the court with the spotlight turned on him, a finals MVP in his hand and the Larry O'Brien trophy in the other. A year later, the scene was repeated, albeit with more sweat on his brow but the Larry O'Brien and the finals MVP trophies rested easy in his hands.

Critics were slowly walking out of the aisles, journalists banging on the keys of their laptops and typing out the word 'Legacy. '

Reminded about his 2011 performance when the Dallas dumped them in the final, LeBron had the most sincere answer to the journalists' question: "Since I got out of the cave after that Dallas series in 2011 and for it to pay off like this, it's the ultimate. It makes you want to work even harder, " the big man said.

In many ways Spurs provided him the kind of challenge that personifies LeBron's character: A dominating player who has the kind of inbuilt intelligence for basketball that is unparalleled. Add the desire to win, his strength and ability to play in virtually every position, and you have the modern-day superman of the game. His only flaw perhaps is that he is not that graceful as Michael Jordan was. Personally, though, he is different from Jordan as chalk is from cheese. Jordan, an industry in himself, was an arrogant and selfish player who cared about his own needs in an organisation that cared for his needs only. James is too good, perhaps, to a fault. LeBron is a people's champions, critics be damned. Don't blame the Oklahoma fans if they waited for LeBron to step out of the team hotel even when Miami were battling Oklahoma in the NBA finals in 2012. For a small black boy in Akron, Ohio, growing up on the love of a single parent, taking his school basketball team to the top level and grabbing national TV spotlight which even the likes of Jordan did not manage, quitting football to a wrist injury, and becoming what he is now, is pure destiny.

But, as the stakes on his career get higher, the lighter he becomes in his head. His ability to transcend the two levels, being focused to win the NBA title and come down easily to connect with the man on the street is remarkable.

He is known as a prankster, a talkative man who was voted as the most fun-loving guy in the US national team that conquered gold at the London Olympics, as much as for his focus. The quiet words to Mario Chalmers signify that.

But when Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird called him a fun man to be around with, Lebron reacted with the most unlikely of comments: "I need rings to prove that I am as serious about winning, " he said in response. With two rings now in his collection, LeBron has virtually no opposition. Knowing his focus, there is no stopping the burgeoning legacy of LeBron James.

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