He is LeBron James.
Yes, the NBA player you most yearn to see shedding tears of relief and ecstasy while hugging the Larry O'Brien Trophy is LeBron. He is officially the sentimental favorite in these 2012 playoffs. He is the human being we have come to embrace and adopt as our own. He is the man we want to see end his long years of ringlessness.
A radical notion, I know. But it's out there. It's palpable. The feeling sweeping across the sports landscape like some refreshing breeze gets stronger by the day. All right, well, maybe not in Cleveland yet. But it's present everywhere else.
Of all the participants in this NBA postseason, the ones with the most ardent rooting section are LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
If you don't think so, then first examine the big picture.
Unless you're a fanatical follower of one of the other contenders, you can be objective. So who would you rather see win the championship this year? Where do your affections lie?
Is it tearing you up inside that the Lakers' Kobe Bryant may not garner that sixth ring, thus tying Michael Jordan? Would you plunge into a depression if the Big Three of the Boston Celtics end their careers having added only one banner to the team's storied rafters?
What about the young upstarts, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls? Are you thinking that they've toughed it out for a year or two in their present incarnations, and therefore they can no longer be accused of wanting instant gratification?
And what about Dirk Nowitzki and the defending champion Dallas Mavericks? Do you think that having been the sentimental favorites last year shouldn't necessarily prevent them from repeating as sentimental favorites?
Compared to all those other top contenders, LeBron is the little kid who fell in the well while saving a kitten and was rescued by firefighters.
I realize that "The Decision" was less than two years ago, and some people are still peeved. I understand. That televised announcement might have been the most ill-advised strategic move since the Bay of Pigs. In Cleveland, I know that residents only use firewood in their homes during the long winter when they run out of LeBron jerseys to burn.
But even in the heartless and often brainless world of sports, there are limits to the amount of piling on that is considered acceptable — depending on the offense, of course. Last year was LeBron's first season after "The Decision," and he took his lumps. He was ridiculed, lambasted and trashed. Even Kate Gosselin on "Dancing with the Stars" took less abuse.
What made matters worse for him was his inability to perform in the fourth quarter of important games. LeBron haters cackled with glee over each brick. And they threw parties when the Heat blew the 2011 NBA Finals to the Mavericks. LeBron had promised the people of Miami multiple championships when he and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in South Beach. Yet here he is, in his ninth NBA season, and right now I bet he'd give just about anything for one.
That's why I think he is this year's lovable lug.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Yet all of that is over now.
The sense is that he served his sentence for the unforgivable act of leaving one professional sports team and signing with another. Really, that's all he did. Of course, it was the way he did it that stoked the rage, but that was more lousy judgment than evil act.
This season the Heat are the perceived favorite to win it all. With Derrick Rose out with a knee injury in Chicago, the Bulls not only are short one superstar, they're also vulnerable to complete mental collapses like the one on display Tuesday night against Philadelphia. If the remaining Bulls don't pull out of their funk, the Heat's biggest challenge in the East will be staying awake until the NBA Finals.
In the West, the probable survivors will be either the Spurs or Thunder, with the Lakers having an outside chance. When they're at their best, the Heat can outlast any of those teams in a best-of-seven series.
That sound you hear, the murmur of voices rising in intensity in a raucous display of affirmation? Those are fans across the land cheering for LeBron James to win his first-ever NBA championship. Indeed, it's probably a sound that you couldn't imagine hearing a year ago.
But now? You want him to succeed. Admit it.
Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelVentre44
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