Meet the New Heat, Scarier Than the Old Heat

LeBron flips the script with dominant Finals performance

By Josh Alper
|  Friday, Jun 22, 2012  |  Updated 8:39 AM EDT
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LeBron's talents finally arrived in South Beach.

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Well, it was fun hating on LeBron James the loser while it lasted.

As James went from generally liked to universally despised over the last few years, we got to experience an increasingly rare moment in American life. Shared experiences have gone the way of spats and bipartisanship, except for heaping scorn on James for his inability to win, or even show up for, the big one.

It was almost certainly overblown, especially when some dope on the street would decide he was a psychologist capable of telling someone about the inner demons that contributed to James' failure in big spots.

We'll always wonder why James was unsure enough about his own abilities to tuck himself behind Dwyane Wade in Miami and why it took him so long to realize he's better at basketball than just about everyone who has ever lived, but we can't indulge in the armchair psychology anymore. 

James' play against the Thunder, right down to the Game Five triple double, erased all of that because James did more than just show up for big games. He dominated them and tore the guts out of the Thunder in four straight games in a performance that you had to respect even if you didn't like it.

There's no more doubting James' place in the firmament of basketball stardom, even if it is impossible to believe that the man who put on a Roberto Benigni-style burst of overacting (see leg cramps, Game Four) and flopping (see every game and please do something about it, David Stern) will ever be looked at the same way as the cold-blooded Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

There's still something artificial about James -- even beyond the fake nerd glasses that make him look like Rainier Wolfcastle in "Undercover Nerd" -- and there probably always will be, but that doesn't make him any less of a champion.

That's a good thing, even for the most intractable James haters, because the storyline needed refreshing. We'll go out on a limb and say that the new one will become some variation of "Can anyone beat the Heat now that James has come to terms with his talent?"

Such a storyline is going to have particular resonance in these parts as we dream about the Knicks ending their 40 years in the basketball desert with a third title for the franchise. The good news on that front is that the Knicks gave the Heat exactly as tough a matchup as the vaunted Thunder.

The bad news is that a team as good as the Thunder wasn't able to muster anything more than that against a Heat team that finally lived up to their advance billing/choreographed dance number.

Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler are going to be able to take a game or two from the Heat here and there, but four out of seven feels like a pretty tall order now that James is through hiding from what everyone has always expected of him.

Although he's won a title, it still feels wrong comparing James to Jordan outside of one thing. The Knicks of the past always knew that Jordan was waiting at the end of the tunnel to kick them in the groin and it looks like the Knicks of the present will have the same relationship with James.

So you can keep hating him for that. Or because he made it possible for Eddy Curry to have more rings than Bernard King, Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston combined.

It's time to come up with new hate for LeBron because the old ways went up in flames on Thursday night.

London 2012 is right around the corner. Get the top Olympic news, including what to watch, results and features on our local athletes at NBC's Olympic Zone.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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