Wednesday on the Scott Van Pelt Show, Ryen Russillo and Jonathan Coachman were discussing a possible perception change of LeBron James should the Heat win the NBA title in the next week. Coachman, a former WWE talent, compared LeBron’s last few seasons to a wrestling heel who is so good that over time he actually becomes a fan favorite.
Make no mistake, outside of Miami, the general NBA viewing public still views LeBron as a heel, but an NBA championship would go a long way to making him a heel/face along the lines of Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1997ish. He just needs one more magnificent performance and he’ll be able to turn the page on one chapter of his career and move on.
Also on Wednesday, CBS Sports’ Ken Berger detailed how LeBron’s changed his approach during this year’s postseason. He’s more cerebral now. His game hasn’t changed since the 2011 Finals, only his mindset. Yes he’s grown as a player, all the greats do, but he hasn’t changed his game the way so many writers, pundits and fans would like to believe he has.
As Berger writes, James has grown up a lot in the last year and you don’t have to look any farther than the post Game Six press conference for the evidence.
Reflecting on his past Finals failures Wednesday, James said that in 2007 against the Spurs, “I was young and inexperienced.” Last year against the Mavs, after a season in which he’d turned the whole basketball world against him, James acknowledged, “I was very frustrated. I was very hurt that I let my teammates down, and I was very immature.
“Like I said,” James continued, “last year I played to prove people wrong instead of just playing my game, instead of just going out and having fun and playing a game that I grew up loving. … So I was very immature last year after Game 6 towards you guys and towards everyone that was watching.”
Make no mistake, this is LeBron’s year. He has carried the Heat all season while Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh dealt with various injuries. If the Heat win the NBA title, there won’t be any asterisks, there won’t be any questions about whether this is Wade’s team or LeBron’s team. You couldn’t have said that last year. If the Heat won the NBA title last season, everyone would’ve called Wade Batman and LeBron Robin (or Wade is Shawn Michaels and LeBron is HHH if you’d like to continue the late 90’s wrestling analogy). That won’t happen this season. Miami is still Dwayne Wade’s city, but the Heat are LeBron’s team. Yes, LeBron is still the NBA’s heel for the moment, but possibly as early as Thursday night the three time MVP will have the ultimate validation and begin his turn to becoming the NBA’s face, something a lot of people didn’t think was possible two summers ago.