June 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Vincent Goodwill

LeBron James' greatness must be recognized

LeBron James has back-to-back NBA titles and MVP awards. (David Santiago/Miami Herald)

With the Larry O’Brien Trophy in his left hand and the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy in his right, an exhausted LeBron James stood as if to say, “What can you say now?”

Two-time champion. Two-time Finals MVP.

At some point, folks, an old playground saying has to come into play, especially after the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs participated in arguably the best Games 6 and 7 of all time.

Game recognize game.

After being dared by the Spurs to take perimeter jumpers for six games, James confidently, assuredly, finally made them pay with five 3-pointers and crucial outside shots — including the dagger with 27 seconds left — to seal the championship.

Thirty-seven points, 12 rebounds and four assists and two steals.

He shut down Tony Parker, who’ll escape any type of public criticism despite being called the best point guard in the game.

Tim Duncan missed a point-blank layup that could’ve tied the game with less than a minute left, which led to James’ 18-foot jumper. Duncan will face no public shame, nor should he.

But if it weren’t for Shane Battier’s six 3-pointers or Dwyane Wade reminding folks he very well could be the fourth-best shooting guard in NBA history, or Ray Allen hitting a step-back 3-pointer to send Game 6 into overtime, the Spurs would be champions today.

"You need a little bit of luck to win a NBA title,” James said afterward. “And we had Jesus (Ray Allen) on our side."

Dodging criticism

Without that luck, James would be facing an avalanche of criticism from those who couldn’t get past his moments of youthful hubris, who couldn’t recognize his growth and maturity since leaving the nest and comfort of home three years ago.

In a lot of ways, his carrying the severely undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2007 Finals would be used against him, because a team that had no business on the Finals stage doesn’t bring perspective or nuance. All it represented to critics was a notch on the right side of his NBA Finals’ ledger, making it sounds like it would’ve been better had he not performed so historically against the Detroit Pistons in the conference finals that year.

After that 2007 NBA Finals, James and Duncan embraced in a back hallway, as Duncan told James the league would one day be his. Thursday, James sought out Duncan on the floor in the immediate aftermath, a quiet moment for several seconds of appreciation for one another, of mutual respect between champions and players who likely rank in the top 10 of all time.

“They pushed us to the limit,” said James, graciously giving respect to a class organization, a worthy opponent.

The Spurs and Heat, like great boxers, elevated the level of each other’s game.

The Heat kept giving body blows, but the Spurs kept coming, led by young and precocious Kawhi Leonard, who wasn’t fazed by a Game 7, or James, or the stage.

Yes, Manu Ginobili had a disastrous game at the worst time, and Danny Green came crashing back to earth after making everything for the first half of the series. But Chris Bosh went scoreless, too.

Those details don’t matter, and it didn’t matter to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who embraced Wade and James after the game, seemingly in appreciation of what he just witnessed.

Both teams emptied their reservoirs, exhausted their physical and mental gas tanks, and one team, one man stood above all.

Enough with the insta-slams

It’s high time we stop criticizing and acknowledge what we just witnessed from all sides.

Furthermore, we have to stop judging James shot by shot, quarter by quarter, game by game as if his legacy rides on every single thing he does.

No other athlete in today’s instant-reaction, social-media heavy world has to deal with the constant evaluation James does.

Missed shot: “He’s a bum!”

Made shot: “He was supposed to hit that!”

How silly is that?

We penalize him because he’s not Michael Jordan, but who is? Jordan is nonpareil, and although Jordan had the demons that haunted him named the Detroit Pistons and was heavily criticized for it, he was given a blank canvas as far as becoming a champion.

James, in a lot of people’s eyes, has to follow directly in Jordan’s footsteps before he can be mentioned as great.

How about a noble concept: Give LeBron James the same opportunity to create his own legacy and realize even if the Spurs won, we’re watching something historic and that James wasn’t worthy of criticism after last night.

At some point, game recognize game.