LeBron James does his best to silence his critics
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LeBron James sat in a sweat and Champagne-soaked oversized T-shirt with the championship trophy on one side of him and the Finals MVP trophy on the other, looking happier than he did one year earlier when he was in the same position.
Dwyane Wade was overjoyed and wanted to be called "Three." Not because it's his jersey number -- it's how many championships he's won.
"All the giddiness is the Champagne talking," Wade said. "This is sweet."
It was a sweet repeat for Miami. King James and the Heat were crowned champions again Thursday night with a 95-88 win over the Spurs in a terrific Game 7 that was a fitting end to this classic series.
The Spurs seemed to have the title wrapped up in the closing seconds of regulation in Game 6. But they let the game and ultimately the series slip away.
Manu Ginobili said that game was still in his head. Tim Duncan won't forget the series clincher, though. With a chance to tie, Duncan missed a hook shot in the lane with 48.9 seconds to go and the tip-in two seconds later.
"Game 7 is always going to haunt me," Duncan said.
It was dejection and devastation for San Antonio and euphoria for Miami.
The Heat defended its title and for the second straight year James silenced his critics.
They would have been out in full force had Miami lost, especially if James had a night like Tony Parker's. He was 3-for-12, scored 10 points and was benched with 27.9 seconds left.
James was brilliant in the biggest game of his career. He had 37 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals. In his three years with Miami, the Heat has reached three NBA Finals and won two titles. People may not have liked the theatrics that accompanied James' "Decision," but the results speak for themselves.
"The story is still yet to be seen what he's going to end up with, but right now he's going to enjoy number two," Wade said after scoring 23 points. "Winning back-to-back, there's not a lot of people who have done that. He's a special player. What he brings every night is unbelievable."
On the game's biggest stage James showed how much he's evolved since San Antonio swept his Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 Finals.
The Spurs dared James to beat them with his jump shot then and did it again in Game 7 Thursday night. James was 5-for-10 on three-pointers and buried a humongous 19-foot pull-up jumper with 27.9 seconds left to put Miami up four.
"He takes a lot of heat, undeservedly," said Shane Battier, who hit six threes and scored 18 points Thursday. "He's the best player on the planet. Hopefully now with two titles, he'll get a little more the benefit of the doubt."
Despite doing something Larry Bird never did in repeating, James will still have his critics -- and he wouldn't want it any other way.
"Please continue to motivate me," James told the media. "I need you guys."
The next measuring stick will be for James to pull off a three-peat. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did it twice and Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant once. James surely has it in his sights.
"I want to be if not the greatest, one of the greatest to ever play this game," James said. "I will continue to work for that and continue to put on this uniform and be the best I can."
A year from now James might be sitting with trophies on either side of him again. You can't doubt him anymore, even though that's what James wants.