(The Root) — As the clock wound down Thursday night, with the outcome clear, LeBron James let everything out. All the grief he took for leaving Cleveland. All the hate he received for going to Miami. All the criticism he endured for failing in the NBA Finals last year.
The only "crimes" were his over-the-top TV special two years ago and his reckless prediction that the Heat would win eight titles. Yet that was enough to make him Public Enemy No. 1, despised and resented like no one else in the NBA. Overnight, he went from being the league's most popular player to its most polarizing, and it made him an angrier, less joyous player.
But all of that disappeared in the final moments of Miami's series-clinching victory.
James jumped up and down with his teammates on the sideline. He flailed his arms and smiled widely. He displayed the unbridled joy that's reserved for children and champions. His performance spoke for itself — a triple-double in Game 5 and the NBA Finals MVP trophy award — but he addressed his many critics afterward, especially those who called him selfish.
"That got to me a lot because I know that this is a team game," James said. "I know the coaches that I had when I was younger always preached about team. There's no 'I' in team, and to win a championship, no matter on which level, you have to do it as a team.
"A lot of people were saying I was a selfish person and a selfish player; it got to me," he said. "All last year I tried to prove people wrong, prove you guys wrong, and it wasn't me. At the end of the day, I was basically fighting against myself."
The inner battle was nonexistent in the series against Oklahoma City, with James averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game. He proved to be the league's most selfless superstar, willingly passing the ball to open teammates — which isn't a given for players of immense talent. That's one of the reasons he's such a joy to watch.
"He played extremely well, extremely well," Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. " … That guy is an unbelievable player and an unbelievable person. I enjoyed working out with him this summer. It was fun playing against him in the Finals, but you could just tell he was very focused from the beginning of the season."
The intense focus on James and the Heat made for a great storyline, with seemingly everyone outside of Miami rooting against them. The attention won't lessen now that they have won a championship and have the potential to win a few more. A lot of the hatred won't fade away, either.
But the amount of respect should increase. Respect for an incredible player, a unified team and a job well done. If critics can't bring themselves to that point, so be it.
They can't change the fact that King James has been crowned and his decision has been validated.