I hesitate to write anything about LeBron James’ recent struggles for a couple of reasons. For one, he’s still playing playoff basketball. Any contention that this Cavs-Celtics series is over at 3-2 is absolutely absurd to anyone that has followed Bron and seen what he’s capable of. You remember the 48 Special against Detroit. You remember last season’s buzzer-beating 26-foot bomb to edge Orlando.
I also tend to shy away from the LeBron discussion because I think evaluations of his legacy at this stage are ultimately moot. He’s 25-years-old. If he doesn’t win a title this year in Cleveland, he’ll win one next year in Cleveland. Or somewhere else.
That said, I feel obligated to respond when I get called out for my unabashed Bron-hood with text messages like this:
Have you ever even seen DWade disappear like this?… If everyone wants to crown this guy, then he needs to show up and not make bs elbow excuses… Btw at the beginning of series he only drove b/c his elbow hurts, now he only shoots b/c his elbow hurts, these commentators need to pick an excuse and stick with it. ~ Philip Kates, Delusional Heat Fan, Wednesday, 10:37 p.m.
Now, I’m of the belief that the LeBron-Wade comparison is a bogus one, a fool’s errand. LBJ has bigger fish to fry. When all is said and done, we will only be ranking him among the best players of his generation if said players are also among the greats of all time. Wade isn’t there yet. He may never be. That said… No. I’ve never seen D-Wade lay the kind of dinosaur egg that LeBron laid in what might be his Cleveland sendoff. He finished with 15 points on 3 of 14 shooting. Clanked his first seven shots. Didn’t get a bucket until 6:15 left in the third with the C’s already up 15.
He got yanked for the final time with 3:58 left and down by 27. The Q booed. And LeBron shrugged at his coach and his teammates as if to say, didn’t think it’d go down like this. Wasn’t supposed to go down like this… Ain’t all bad, though. Got places to go, people to see, money to make.
It’s been real, Cleveland. Tell the Ghost of 1964 I say “peace.”
Can we blame back-to-back Houdinis on Bron’s gimpy arm? Is he really hurt? Perhaps. But that’s not a legitimate excuse for the all-timers. Kobe’s mangled claw of a shooting hand comes to mind, as does Jordan’s transcendent “Flu Game” in the ’97 Finals. MJ’s game 5 line: 38 points, 7 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals, 1 win, 1 case of severe food poisoning. LeBron is a physically freakish 6’9″, 275-pound monster. I’m no doctor, but I think he can tough out a bruised elbow. His 21 points in the first quarter of game 3 suggest that it doesn’t hurt that bad anyway.
Aside from the elbow, the most ardent of King supporters – me – have a bevy of excuses they can throw out should Skip Bayless’ wildest dreams come true Thursday night. They go like this…
His team still sucks. Jamal Mashburn said on SportsCenter before the game 5 drubbing that Cleveland would be a lottery team without LeBron. I don’t think anybody with their full set of chromosomes seriously disputes this. The Cavs’ pair of 60-win seasons speak far more to LeBron’s quantum leap than Danny Ferry’s eye for talent. When The King is good, his teammates are good. When The King is bad, his teammates are bad. It’s as simple as that. There isn’t a guy on that team that can control an eight-minute stretch, let alone a full 48, when Bron’s game sours. He’s got no Pippen. He’s got no McHale. He’s not a Shaq to anyone’s Kobe or a Kobe to anyone’s Gasol. In all the “Hey, they got Jamario Moon!” talk, you forget that Jamario Moon is Jamario Moon. And that Mo Williams is Mo Williams. And that Shaq has tits. And that Bron’s wingman is a 33-year-old career sidekick who’s at the tail end of his prime and coming off a 19-win season.
His coach still sucks. I half-seriously asked Bill Simmons Wednesday night if Mike Brown was the antichrist. Good guy by all accounts. People seem to like him. He wins coach of the year. And before you know it, he’s dragging your season to hell. Brown’s never been confused for an offensive guru, but his adamant refusal to play small against quicker teams is flummoxing even for him. He’s got a stable of thoroughbreds and the best finisher in the game, yet insists on clogging his offense and defense with a walking man-boob, as J.J. Hickson withers away on the bench. In his five seasons in Cleveland, he still hasn’t come up with a better crunch time offense than the patented Clear Out For LeBron. Shameful.
His agency is still free. I don’t really buy the too-many-distractions argument, but then again, I’ve never been openly courted by Jay-Z and Beyonce. The Bron recruiting blitz kicked into full gear last offseason and has since included cameos from every living rapper, a Russian billionaire, Spike Lee and, just last night, John Calipari. Yes, Coach Cal, the current Kentucky basketball kingpin/future Bulls employee was sitting courtside with LeBron’s agent. I don’t pretend to know what kind of pressure that puts on a man of The King’s stature. I do know the guy’s human.
Fortunately, you’re not gonna have to stomach any of these cop-outs. Now is the time when the greatest of the greats step up and do special things. I fully expect as much from LeBron in games 6 and 7, despite his seemingly blase attitude. I think he cares, and I know he’s the best player on the floor. This is my guy. My wagon is hitched.
Like I said, LeBron will win titles. It’s a matter of when, not if. But his detractors will always justifiably point to a gaping hole in his Pantheonic resume should he fail to deliver in Cleveland. And if he leaves empty handed, we’ll ultimately remember these years as nothing more than wasted youth – a golden child lost, and memories of what could’ve been.