On May 5, 2006, LeBron James watched as Washington Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas went to the free throw line with his team up one point and 15.1 seconds left in a first round playoff elimination game six.
Following Arena’s first shot, which rimmed out, James calmly met him at the line with a pat on the chest and the words: “If you miss both of those free throws, the game is over."
And although Arenas shot a career high 84 percent from the free throw line during the 2005-06 regular season, James noticeably got into the all-star’s head as Arenas clanked his second shot —a miss that ultimately paved the way for Damon Jones’ game-winning three pointer and an early playoff exit for the Wizards.
Perhaps, this was strike one for James in the eyes of many.
On July 8, 2010, James’ second offense came at 9:27 PM during a widely criticized ESPN special entitled “The Decision,” which acted as a platform for the then two-time league MVP to announce the team he planned to sign with after playing the first seven years of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In just one sentence—“This fall, I plan to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat"—James disappointed many as he revealed his choice to team up with two all-stars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, forming a comparable yet younger and arguably better version of the Boston Celtics’ “Big Three.”
The news was especially tough to bear for Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who hoped that James would re-sign with Cleveland and as a result of the decision wrote an open letter to Cavalier fans guaranteeing that the franchise would win an NBA title before “the self-titled former king” won one.
But maybe the final straw was James’ own bold proclamation that the number of championships he expected himself, Wade, and Bosh to bring back to Miami was “Not 1! Not 2! Not 3! Not 4! Not 5! Not 6! Not 7!”
After finishing the 2010-11 regular season with a record of 58-24 and defeating Philadelphia, Boston, and the league’s top-ranked Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Heat lived up to LeBron’s prediction, or at least the first two words of it.
The Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the finals and after one season the James, Wade, and Bosh era had produced “not 1!” NBA championship trophy.
What LeBron did take away from his first season in Miami, however, was much criticism and more specifically the title of the league’s ‘villain.’
And in his second season as a member of the Miami Heat, the 27 year-old former No. 1 overall pick displayed his ability to overcome this criticism while embracing the role of the villain.
Despite averaging a disappointing 17.8 points per game (ppg) in last year’s finals and a career low 23.7 ppg during the entire 2011 playoffs, James entered this year’s postseason focused on one thing—silencing his skeptics by winning his first NBA title.
In an effort to do so while avoiding distractions, LeBron who is known as @KingJames on Twitter, completely removed himself from the social media site by not tweeting throughout the entire playoffs.
James also continued to sport the clear mouth guard he wears every game; however, for the playoffs the roman numerals “XVI” stretched across the front of it representing the number of victories he needed to win a championship.
Although these gestures pointed to James’ dedication to achieving his goal, they would have meant nothing if he played at the level he did last year.
Luckily for the Heat, LeBron had arguably one of the best playoff performances in NBA history en route to the first time he was able to call the Larry O’Brien trophy his own.
From his 40-point performance in game three of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pacers to a 45-point display in game six of the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics with the Heat on the verge of elimination, James dominated in the scoring column during the postseason to a tune of 30.3 ppg.
In game four of the finals with 2:55 left to go, James returned to the floor after being sidelined with leg cramps to hit a three-pointer, which gave Miami a lead that it would not relinquish as well as momentum going into what would ultimately be the final game of the series.
It was the plays like this one that not only allowed James to hold up the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy, but also to gain the respect of many who previously regarded him as the villain.
After the Heat picked up the 4-1 finals series victory against the Thunder, James returned to Twitter with more followers than ever at a total of over five million.
And most likely to LeBron’s surprise, out of all the tweets that commended him and the new era Miami Heat for winning its first championship was one from Gilbert which said: "Great NBA season. Enjoyed playoffs. Congratulations to Miami & OKC for an exciting Finals.”