If you were to visit www.wageronsports.com you would likely find short odds on Lebron James retaining his MVP crown, such has been the quality of performances which the Miami Heat star has turned in, game after game, this season. A wager on basketball history was possible in the Heat’s 1,000th victory, a game in which James played a pivotal role, scoring 30 points and shooting sixty percent – a feat he has matched or exceeded for six games in a row, the first player to do so in the NBA.
The arrival of this new era of Lebron James, where both talent and character receive praise, was not always to be expected. Though his talent was never in doubt, many questioned his character, mainly due to the incidents which seemed to suggest his arrogance. He came under particular fire for the way in which he chose to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers. After seven seasons without a championship, James had declared himself an unrestricted free agent. He chose to announce his decision in a live broadcast; his team discovered the truth only minutes before the program aired.
The reaction was immediate and negative. Many questioned the spectacle of a live broadcast, and one which prolonged the uncertainty of Cavalier fans. The majority owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, published an open letter in which he derided James as ‘selfish’ and ‘callous’.
Lebron, then, brought a difficult legacy with him to his first season with the Heat. Initially he did little to try to change the public’s perception of him as a villain, acknowledging, in interviews, that he was, in fact, trying to play up to the role: “you start to hear ‘the villain,’ now you have to be the villain, you know, and I started to buy into it.” His performances, however, continued to be exceptional, helping the Heat get to the 2011 finals where they lost against the Dallas Mavericks. James came under attack for his play, averaging just 4 points in the series’ fourth quarters.
Humbled by the loss, James came back in 2012 with a new attitude and the rest is championship history. But more than winning that coveted ring, James effected a remarkable turnaround in his image, which was recognized when he was unanimously voted MVP. Given his recent performances, few would bet against him, with his Heat team looking to head for a second successive title.