LeBron James became a villain by leaving the Cavaliers for the Heat on The Decision in 2010. He arrived in Miami promising “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” championships.
By the end of his first season with the Heat, he was beaten down. The Mavericks topped Miami in the NBA Finals, winning the last three games of the series. While Miami blew its 2-1 lead, LeBron averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 turnovers per game. He shot 2-for-12 on 3-pointers and 4-for-10 on free throws.
After Game 6, he callously mocked his critics:
“All the people that were rooting for me to fail… at the end of the day, tomorrow they have to wake up and have the same life that (they had) before they woke up today,” James said. “They got the same personal problems they had today. And I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do.”
LeBron emerged from his funk and led the Heat to consecutive titles. He returned to Cleveland and won another title there. He’s now with the Lakers leading another championship pursuit.
He plays well. He plays smartly. He plays with joy. He often rises to the biggest occasions.
LeBron probably had to go through a setback like the 2011 Finals to sharpen his mental edge. But it’s incredible how far he has come from the defeated player who left that series against Dallas.