by Sam Riches / @sam_riches

Almost 11 months ago, LeBron James made ‘The Decision‘. Almost instantaneously, the fans began to make theirs. Some applauded his tenacity, his courage to make a choice based on his own desires and ambitions. But others felt a sting of betrayal and animosity. The man with the vision of Magic, the athleticism of Dr. J and the versatility of Oscar Robertson had performed his final physical feat for the fans of Cleveland.

A swift kick to the gut.

But his move to Miami brought with it a surge of attention. Attention that is now helping the NBA reach historic heights of popularity. From ESPN:

“With LeBron and the Heat in the championship series, the NBA Finals has a chance to be the highest-rated and most-viewed Finals since the Orlando-Houston series in 1995 or even the Bulls-Portland series, Jordan’s second Finals, in 1992. LeBron — at least temporarily, and probably for the next few years — has done for interest in the NBA what Tiger Woods did for interest in professional golf. LeBron and the Heat have become the tide that floats all boats.

Asked the other night in Chicago about LeBron’s impact on the season, teammate Dwyane Wade said: ‘Once everybody gets over being mad, angry, whatever they are, they have to admit that it’s remarkable how many people took an interest in our team, in the league, in professional basketball beginning that night [July 8]. People who never watched the NBA to that point became interested. And I think we know that now. People who never even watched professional sports became interested in our product. It’s much bigger than us now; look at the interest in the entire league.’

On the eve of the NBA Finals, the dust has settled and LeBron has risen. Reaching the point many predicted he would, despite their afflictions.

The stage is set and it is now up to James, Wade, Bosh and Co. to complete the last step of their journey, or in their case —the last of their meals. Whether or not the Heat are able to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy, their success has already shifted the landscape of the NBA in a new direction.