MIAMI — LeBron James and Maverick Carter have been inseparable since they were little kids. Extremely close friends, James trusts Carter with virtually every aspect of his life.
For the last few days, they were not on speaking terms.
"I told him he's got to be great," Carter said. "I told him, there's nothing wrong with a great player playing great."
With a cigar in his mouth, and champagne and beer dripping off his T-shirt, James celebrated a second straight NBA championship Thursday night. He scored 37 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and simply controlled everything down the stretch, as the Heat won the third title in franchise history with a 95-88 win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7.
"This team is amazing," James said. "And the vision that I had when I decided to come here is all coming true."
Two days after helping the Heat survive a wild Game 6 in overtime, James' final numbers went like this: 12 for 23 from the field, 5 for 10 from 3-point range, 8 for 8 from the line.
And in a season where he was the league's MVP for a fourth time, he's now added a second ring to the collection. Suddenly, his resume is looking as complete as some of the other all-time greats. Here's a club: He joined Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the only players in league history to win back-to-back Finals MVP and regular-season MVP awards.
"Listen, I can't worry about what everybody says about me," James said, as confetti fell around him. "I'm LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I'm not even supposed to be here. That's enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a No. 6 with James on the back. I'm blessed. So what everybody says about me off the court don't matter. I ain't got no worries."
Dwyane Wade scored 23 points and won his third NBA title. The man who wears No. 3 on his uniform insisted that he wanted to be called "Three" afterward, for obvious reasons. Shane Battier — benched earlier in these playoffs — had 18 on six 3-pointers and said "it's better to be timely than good," afterward. Mario Chalmers scored 14 for the Heat, who won despite no points from Chris Bosh.
It didn't matter. James was good enough to mask any problem the Heat had Thursday night. A series that started with three games of the Spurs supposedly bottling him up and solving the riddle of how to stop the MVP ended with him doing pretty much whatever he wanted.
"It became time," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He always rises to the occasion when it matters the most, when the competition is fiercest."
He rarely acknowledges this much, but James has to be exhausted. He worked out furiously during the lockout in 2011, in part because he convinced himself that the season would begin on time, in part because he was still smarting from how sub-par he played during the Finals loss to the Mavericks in his first season with the Heat.
Last season began on Dec. 25, 2011. The Heat went through the rigors of that ultra-compacted 66-game schedule and won a title. James went right into training with USA Basketball, eventually helping that team win a gold medal at the London Olympics. After that, he took about two weeks off, then started getting ready for this season, which went all the way down to the last possible day.
That's more basketball, under more pressure, than anyone else on the planet has seen in the last two years.
James took all the criticism when the Heat lost those 2011 finals. He took all the criticism in 2010, as well, when the Heat welcomed him and Bosh as Wade's newest star teammates with a star-studded party that was planned long before James made his infamous "decision" to sign with the Heat.
Now he's won two titles, and refuses to take all the credit.