It's LeBron's league now.
After years of paying off the mortgage, he finally holds the title. Every NBA arena is his domain. Sure, the A-listers courtside in Los Angeles will be chanting for Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul. The Oklahoma City fanatics in blue or white T-shirts will shout themselves hoarse for Kevin Durant. The retired numbers hovering over Kevin Garnett will remind the Boston diehards of his place in the Celtics' pantheon. None of that will matter when LeBron James takes the floor. Wherever he is playing, the game will revolve around him.
At 27, James is more than the reigning MVP and the best player on the champion Heat. He has created a style of play that didn't exist—didn't even seem fathomable—until he came along. His fulfillment didn't come easily; his mistakes were punished and his confidence pummeled before he was able to celebrate in June. Good luck to anyone trying to stop James now and prevent Miami from winning a second straight title. Because no one in the league can come close to beating LeBron at his own game.
Before James a few NBA champions had single-handedly changed the way pro basketball was played:
• George Mikan, the first prolific big man.
• Bill Russell, the most influential leader of all time, who established defensive teamwork as the path to championships.
• Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, who showed future generations that tall men could display the skills of smaller stars.
• Michael Jordan, a shooting guard so dominant that he turned the NBA into a perimeter league.
• Shaquille O'Neal, who renewed the importance of the low post.
There was no answer to any of these stars at their peak—not to Mikan's revolutionary scoring, Russell's shot blocking or the inspired playmaking of Magic and Bird. Once he figured out how to beat the Jordan Rules, Jordan won championships in each of his last six full seasons as a Bull, even though every defender knew where the ball was going at crunch time. And opposing contenders stockpiled 7-footers in a futile effort to overwhelm (and for a while, hack) Shaq, who wore them out on his way to four titles.