LeBron James Gets Ring, But May Take Longer to Receive True Respect

LeBron James Gets Ring, But May Take Longer to Receive True RespectIt takes more than this to get the monkey off LeBron James' back. It has to. A person cannot be chastised as harshly for as long as James has been, only to be absolved of his sins just like that.

This is not a critic's take. It is James'. He is the one who grabbed the mic two summers ago and declared what it would take to make the Heatles a success. You remember the way it starts:

"Not one…"

James was immense from Game 1 against the Knicks all the way through Game 5 against the Thunder. At no point in the playoffs was his play ever worthy of criticism, not that that stopped anybody. His epic 45-point Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Finals will go down as one of the great clutch performances in NBA playoff history. To see him transform in the NBA Finals into not just the greatest oversized playmaker since Magic Johnson, but also arguably the best power forward in the game today, had to be like watching Michael Jordan dismantle the Lakers in five games in 1991.

This was James, like Jordan in '91, securing himself as one of the top 15 players in NBA history at the tender age of 27. Another two or three years at a realistically dominant level, and he will slide easily into the top 10 and knock on the door of the top five: Bill Russell, Jordan, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and (depending on whether you're dealing with a Boston crowd or an L.A. crowd) Larry Bird or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But there is a difference between working one's way up an arbitrary list — especially one most of you probably disagree with, because that is the way sports lists work — and gaining true appreciation from the public. There is a difference between becoming a champion and being a winner, which in many fans' eyes, he still is not and may never be.

One day perhaps even casual fans will learn to see James dribble off a screen and, without looking or interrupting his dribble, fire a one-handed bounce pass to a rolling Chris Bosh for a dunk. It is possible that, eventually, hitting a game-turning 3-pointer while his legs seize up with cramps will be cause not for sophomoric Midol jokes but real respect. Maybe a dozen years from now, if a 39-year-old James is going shot-for-shot with some up-and-coming stud, much like Jordan against Kobe Bryant in the 2003 NBA All-Star Game, a few of the fans whose hearts he broke in his younger days will be shocked to find themselves rooting for him.

The man nobody wanted to see be a champion is now a champion. James did what he could not do in Cleveland, and moved closer to receiving the acceptance he is due from anyone outside of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. That acceptance and appreciation will not come with a championship, however.

At least, not one…

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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