Cheers & tears — LeBron’s NBA Finals faces through the years
A familiar look
LeBron James has been to five NBA Finals. But for all his greatness, The King has been a bridesmaid (three times) more often than a champion (two). But through it all, one thing has held constant — James had finished the season's final game with his emotions on his sleeve ... or more appropriately, his face. This sourpuss pucker in Sunday night's news conference after his Heat were bounced by the Spurs in five games was the latest, but certainly not the greatest (or saddest, depending on your affiliation). Take a look back through the years at the many faces of LeBron James in the NBA Finals.
In over his head
James' first taste of the NBA Finals was his first taste of defeat. And it tasted a lot like his last. In 2007, James was just a 22-year-old baby face, leading his thoroughly outmanned Cavaliers against the veteran San Antonio Spurs. Appropriately enough, LeBron looked like he never knew what hit him, as the Spurs swept the Cavs. For the series, James averaged 22 points, seven rebounds and nearly six assists per game. But he shot only 35.6 percent from the field and 69 percent from the free-throw line. Still a kid with little championship expectations, critics mostly applauded LeBron's efforts, despite the struggles in the spotlight.
NBAE/Getty ImagesJesse D. Garrabrant
Can't take the Heat
Fast forward to 2011, and the stakes for James and his career are at a high even he likely never imagined. After bolting Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach in the offseason, The King (and his court of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade) were the favorites against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. But they were anything but fan favorites. Unlike his first Finals, James finally got a win in the Finals — in fact, he got two. But the world expected two more wins from the best team money could buy, and when the Heat completed their six-game collapse, James was looking down instead of up.
AFP/Getty ImagesMARK RALSTON
Is this rock bottom?
After he leaves the court, LeBron finally faces the music in 2011. He scored only 17.8 points per game in the Finals, but shot 47.8 percent from the floor, grabbed 7.2 rebounds and handed out 6.8 assists, very similar to 2007. But James averaged 4 turnovers and shot only 60 percent from the free-throw line, and his eight-point, four-turnover clunker in Game 4 (and 20 total free-throw attempts in six games) were all that mattered to the haters.
NBAE/Getty ImagesBruce Yeung
Ahhhh . . . sweet relief
By the time 2012 rolls around, it seems winning the Finals was less about building a legacy and more about just shutting people up for James. In his second season as part of the Big Three in Miami, James was the unquestioned leader of the Heat, the best player in the games in the eyes of most, and finally in a place where it seemed nothing could go wrong. An NBA title, NBA Finals MVP, a five-game victory over the team many viewed as the anti-Heat (the built-through-the-draft-Thunder), and a stat line of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 47.2-percent shooting from the floor and 82.6-percent free-throw shooting. James finally had his glory — and, clearly, his salvation from the hate.
AFP/Getty ImagesDON EMMERT
OK, now he's the man
A season later, 2013 brings with it revenge and redemption for King James. He earns that nickname a little bit more with a second consecutive NBA title and second consecutive Finals MVP trophy. His Heat beat the Spurs, the team which handed him his first Finals defeat, and do so in dramatic fashion as Miami comes back from down 3-2 in games to win in seven. Once again, James' greatness is unquestioned: 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.3 steals. Of course, he wouldn't be holding that trophy if it weren't for the Spurs' stunning collapse and new Heat Ray Allen's equally stunning 3 at the end of Game 6.
AFP/Getty ImagesBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI
And now, a legacy on the brink?
Before James sported the glasses and the pucker for the media after Sunday night's Game 5, he looked like this on the sideline as the time ticked away in San Antonio. At one time, it appeared he may have been crying. At others, he looked pretty damn angry. But this is the look that sums up the night — and perhaps the offseason — for LeBron. As we head into the offseason, the Heat look old, they could be too cash-strapped to add young talent, and they could be without LeBron next season. Like Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, James can opt out before July 1 and become a free agent. Again, James was pitted against the Spurs in the Finals, but this time, it was young guys like Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and sharpshooter Danny Green who gave Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the lift they needed to get back to the top. LeBron did his part (even after Game 1's 'Crampgate') but one can't help and wonder if LeBron's sitting on the bench wondering, 'Where's my twentysomething help?'