With LeBron, respect is finally due

With LeBron, respect is finally due
June 22, 2012, 2:38 pm
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From deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I plain, straight hate you. But God damn it, do I respect you! Wes Mantooth, Anchorman

So, this is the world we live in.

Forrest Gump finally broke out of his braces. Superman found a cure for Kryptonite.

LeBron James is an NBA champion.

In the words of Kevin Garnett: "Whatchoo gonna say now?"

More than the fact that James won, is exactly how he won. Before these Finals started, that was the one loophole we left ourselves: "Well, what if the Heat win without LeBron playing his best? What if it's Wade or Bosh or some other character stepping up in the clutch while "The King" sucks his thumb in the corner? Can we still play the same game? Spin the same stories? Torment him with the same impending legacy as a Hall of Fame talent with kindergarten toughness?

There was never a definitive answer, but at this point it doesn't matter. Not only was LeBron at his best in these Finals slash in these playoffs, slash this entire season he was better than just about anyone who's ever played the game. He averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists for the series (30.39.75.6 for the playoffs). He hit huge foul shots at the end of Game 2. He drained an enormous three at the end of Game 4. He triple-doubled in Game 5. He was never rattled, almost always in command. He embraced the post in a way that his supporters have long begged for and his haters have secretly feared.

I said this before after Game 6 against the Celtics but in these playoffs LeBron James finally became (or at least started to become) LeBron James. The guy who was almost universally loved and admired by NBA fans as a rookie. Who we all believed would change the game forever and leave us all eternally grateful. These days, reading (and writing) passages like that about LeBron make you want to take a shower. Over the last three years, he's done everything in his power to kill the good vibes of those first few seasons and turn himself into Public Enemy No. 1.

So much so, that there's no way that one ring, one transcendent playoff run, can erase all the angst, and entirely redeem him the eyes of the basketball world.

So if you want to keep hating, that's your right. Regardless of his greatness, he's not without flaws. There are still plenty of reasons most definitely in Cleveland, and certainly in Boston to hate LeBron James deep down in the your stomach, with every inch of you.

But through all the hate, you better leave some room for respect.

Like it or not, he's earned it.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine