MIAMI - LeBron James was crowned king of the basketball world on Thursday, finally claiming the achievement he craved most when he led the Miami Heat to the National Basketball Association title.
James was unanimously named most valuable player (MVP) of the series after he conjured a triple-double of 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists to boost the Heat to a 121-106 win for a 4-1 series victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The triumph came in his third trip to the finals and brought James, widely considered the world's best player, a sense of relief and vindication over his decision to leave his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers and join forces with fellow free agents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
As the final seconds ticked away, the 27-year-old James jumped up and down for joy, spread his arms wide and roared along with the wild celebrations engulfing the American Airlines Arena.
Confetti rained down from the rafters as James exchanged hugs and broad smiles with his team mates and coaches.
Three league MVP awards, four All-Defensive team selection, and Rookie of the Year honors had already bloated the NBA list of achievements for James, a basketball prodigy whose St Vincent-St Mary High School games were televised nationally.
But it took the self-proclaimed 'King James' nine seasons to earn the elusive NBA ring that has now made him an undisputed winner.
"I dreamed about this opportunity and this moment for a long time, including last night," the 6ft-8in, 250 pound James said. "My dream has become a reality now and it's the best feeling I ever had.
"It's about damn time!"
Rather than universal adulation for his basketball prowess, James has been treated as a villain across much of the NBA landscape since joining the Heat in 2010.
James yearned to improve his chances of becoming a champion when he formed a troika with Wade and Bosh, yet he was branded a traitor by some for leaving the Cavs, whom he had taken from cellar-dwellers to the 2007 NBA Finals during his seven seasons there after they made him top pick of the 2003 draft.
Many wanted to see James stay the course in Cleveland, where the franchise failed to surround him with enough championship material to turn his dream into reality.
Then came "The Decision", an hour-long TV special in which James announced where he would be making his basketball home.
That self-absorbed promotion turned a large segment off and even more were alienated by his declaration he would "bring my talents to South Beach" and form a Big Three with Wade and Bosh.
It seemed almost unfair to many NBA followers, who felt players were now dictating the hierarchy of teams.
At a pep rally celebrating the signing of the trio with music blaring and lights flashing, James promised the Miami faithful a bushel of titles, "not four, not five, not six".
The Heat were booed and jeered at every road game.
Sure enough, James and his cohorts reached the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks in their first year together.
But after taking a 2-1 series lead, they lost the next three with James accused of shrinking from the challenge of taking charge at the end of the games.
"The best thing that happened to me last year was losing the finals," James said. "And me playing the way I played, it was the best thing to ever happen to me in my career because basically I got back to the basics. It humbled me.
"Last year, I tried to prove something to everyone and I played with a lot of hate. This year I played with a lot of love.
"This is the happiest day of my life."
This season, a more mature James accepted his leadership role and calmed himself before games by reading books in the locker room and relaxing to ease the pressured expectations.
Hailed as the heir to six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls as a Sports Illustrated cover boy 10 years ago while a high school junior, James has now taken his first step in what seemed a preordained path.
After averaging a disappointing 17.8 points in last year's losing bid against Dallas, James averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists against the Thunder.
Heat team mate Shane Battier, a 13-year NBA veteran, said this week that James needed an NBA title to confirm his greatness in the eyes of the sports universe.
"Whether we like it or not, that's the way we value icons in our society," Battier said.
"It's how many Oscars have you won, how many Nobel Peace Prizes have you won. Have you been published in the Harvard Business Review? What were your earnings last year as a CEO?
"If you want to be remembered as one of the greatest, you need it. You need it. You can be great but it's difficult to reach the pantheon without it."
Now James has his ring, and can settle in comfortably in the pantheon.
(Editing by John O'Brien)