LeBron James capped off one of the most astonishing playoff runs in NBA history, silencing critics who questioned his grit and fortitude as he raised the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the first time in his nine-year career.
"Oh man, this right here is the happiest day of my life," said 2012 NBA finals MVP James on Thursday. "It is a dream come true."
James, who won his third league MVP award this season, lost twice previously in the NBA finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007 and the Heat in 2011 but wasn't going to be denied this time around.
James finished with a triple double, 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, as the Miami Heat hammered the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 to claim their second NBA title in franchise history and first in six years.
James was criticized and called a sore loser after the Heat lost in six games in last year's final to the Dallas Mavericks. During the Dallas series he mocked Mavericks' star player Dirk Nowitzki for playing through a virus and used his final news conference to take verbal shots at those who questioned whether he could ever achieved this title.
But James says he did some soul searching in the off season and so is now better equipped mentally to handle the pressure of being one of the most scrutinized athletes in American sports.
"I played with a lot of hate," James said of last year. "That's not the way I play basketball. Now I play with a lot of love, a lot of passion and that's what I got back to this year."
Combining Dwyane Wade with free agents James and Chris Bosh two years ago cast Miami as the NBA's resident villain, especially when James decided to spurn his hometown of Cleveland on a live ESPN special,"The Decision", that reeked of hubris and narcissism.
James said everything changed for him since coming to the Heat from Cleveland and the adjustment was much more difficult than he anticipated.
"In my first seven years in the league I just went out and let the game take care of itself. Last year I tried to prove something to everybody."
He said there were a lot of misconceptions about who he was both on and off the court and it hurt him at the time.
"A lot of people said I was a selfish person, a selfish basketball player," James said. "I strive on being a team player, doing whatever it takes to help this team win. I used it as motivation. What got me to this point was hard work and dedication."
James was pushed to the point of physical exhaustion in game four as the Heat squeezed out a 104-98 victory over the Thunder.
He fought through painful cramps on Tuesday to knock down one of the most memorable shots of his career, the go-ahead three-pointer late in the fourth quarter as the Heat moved within one win of the title.
James averaged 28.6 points per game in the finals and he has scored at least 25 points or more in a record 15-straight postseason games.
His finals MVP is the 14th time a player has won both the regular season and NBA finals MVP in the same season.
In game four, James became the first player in NBA with at least 650 points, 200 rebounds and 100 assists in the playoffs.
"It is everything," James said. "I dreamed about this opportunity and this moment for a long time, including last night. My dream has become a reality now and it is the best feeling I have ever had."