MIAMI – Crown him again.
LeBron James, the most scrutinized athlete on the planet, is, indeed, The King.
King of the Miami Heat, that is.
He proved it again Saturday while leading his Miami Heat (yes, His Miami Heat) to a 101-88 Game 7 victory against Boston in the Eastern Conference finals.
Step aside, Dwyane Wade. This is now LeBron’s team, and that’s not a bad thing.
“He’s the best basketball player in the world,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said.
James finished Game 7 with 31 points and 12 rebounds while playing all but the last 28 seconds. He scored 11 of his points in the decisive fourth quarter, the time when, according to reputation, he wilts.
Game 7 was tied at 73 entering the fourth quarter. It was anybody’s game. It was anybody’s series. The Heat took it. LeBron took it.
Everybody remembers LeBron’s Game 6 performance – 45 points, 15 rebounds, five assists.
But what you really remember about that performance is the look in LeBron’s eyes.
LeBron now runs the Heat. And deservedly so.
Wade came through in Game 7, too. He had nine fourth-quarter points. He didn’t disappear. He finished with 23 points, six rebounds and six assists. He was huge.
The same goes for Chris Bosh, the “third” member of the Big Three. He had eight fourth-quarter points. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. He knocked down some huge 3-pointers from the corner. LeBron said he was the MVP of Game 7.
“Game ball automatically goes to him,” James said. “Without his production we don’t win.”
That might be true. And all things considered, Game 7 was a great night for the Big Three.
They combined for 73 points and 26 rebounds and led the Heat to victory in one of the biggest games in franchise history.
But James has taken over this team.
James started becoming the undisputed leader of this team late in the season when Wade, and almost every other superstar in the NBA was resting. LeBron kept playing. He ended up playing his way to his third MVP award.
And at that time the Heat had eased into a nice zone – LeBron would carry the Heat the first 46 minutes or so, and then Wade would finish. The formula worked well. Wade had problems carrying the team the entire game, and LeBron had problems being the closer.
But things changed in the postseason.
LeBron not only balled on offense, but did so while successfully defending New York’s Carmelo Anthony in Miami’s five-game victory.
In the second round, after Bosh got injured in Game 1, LeBron carried the Heat to a dramatic six-game victory against Indiana (Wade disappeared for part of that series, yelled at his coach, etc.) while making Danny Granger totally ineffective.
And in the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, LeBron saved the season, and possibly the Big Three’s legacy, with his Game 6 performance.
The funny thing about all of this is that Wade doesn’t seem to care who runs the team. It’s as if he almost welcomes LeBron’s hostile takeover.
“No matter what everyone on the outside said about me I’m a winner, I’m a team player,” Wade said.
That means he’s happy to hand over control of the Heat.
Again, we take you back to the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Game 7. It’s a tie game at 73. The conversation among Heat players is very simple.
“What we’re saying to each other is, ‘It’s time. It’s time,’ ” James said.
And that’s what LeBron’s Heat teammates are saying to him. It’s time.
Almost everybody in the NBA thinks James is the most talented player in the league. That’s hardly disputed. But what’s up for debate is whether James is the best player in the league.
LeBron, who finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting, has to lead the Heat to the title. And he has to do it as the undisputed leader of the Miami Heat, as the guy who can put this team on his shoulders for all 48 minutes of every game in the Finals, and lead them to a title.
That didn’t happen last year against Dallas, but this wasn’t LeBron’s team last year. This team belonged to Dwyane Wade, firstly, and then the Big Three, secondly.
Now, it’s LeBron’s team. He’s the King.
Well, he’s The King if he comes through in the fourth quarter in this Finals matchup against Oklahoma City.
James, possibly the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen, still has to overcome that stain on his name.
“He’s a guy who is the most unselfish superstar I have ever seen,” Boston guard Keyon Dooling said. “He rebounds the ball, assists the ball and empowers friends from his community. He’s a model citizen. He shouldn’t have a stain on his reputation.”
But he does have a stain. He hasn’t won a title. If LeBron can lead His Miami Heat team to a Finals victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, we’ll finally crown him a champion as well as King of the Heat.
Chris Perkins is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com, covering the NBA and the Miami Heat. Follow him on Twitter.