sportstapas
A little dishing on sports

Uneasy Lies the King

LeBron’s early exit from the 2010 NBA playoffs is no doubt a tad inconvenient for David Stern, but it is already apparent that Christmas has come early for the media.  I typically avoid the hysterical musings of the tabloid cognoscenti as much as possible, but unless I want to restrict myself to the travel & leisure section of most publications…oh wait, I just saw an article on the ten best international locations from which LeBron could announce where he’s going to play over the next three years.  Scratch that last thought.

It is truly remarkable to me how quickly and emphatically a number of people have turned on LeBron based on basically one game in his career.  A little over a week ago, LeBron submitted a virtuoso performance, an effort all of us who have watched him over the last seven years expected, leading the Cavaliers to a 2-1 series lead.  Then Rondo dominates game 4, followed by LeBron’s worst game ever, followed by a stunning elimination for Cleveland in Game 6.  Now the guy’s a bum.

He’s the regular season MVP only.

He’s just a guy who’s never won anything.

Bill Simmons, in a bizarre and incomprehensible column, acknowledged that James has never played with a great teammate, cited Pippen’s emergence alongside Jordan in support of the commonly accepted view it takes at least two stars to win championships in the NBA, and then decided that it is some type of fault of LeBron’s that he hasn’t been able to win a championship even though he’s never had that second star or a good coach, concluding that LeBron is Julius Erving 2.0, because as amazing as Doc was, he wasn’t quite good enough to win a title until he was paired with the best player in the league.

I don’t understand the overreaction to what happened this week.  Again, this is a player who led a team comprised of Kukla, Fran, Ollie, Starsky and Hutch to the 2007 Finals, along the way contributing the definitive single game playoff performance of the decade. Since this game was apparently right around the time of the French Revolution, few people remember it.

Allow me to refresh your recollection.  The favored Pistons, winners of 2 of the previous 3 Eastern Conference championships, were battling the pesky upstart Cavaliers.  The series was tied at 2 and the veteran Pistons were poised to impose their will on Cleveland, win the pivotal game 5 at home and then close the series out in either 6 or 7 games.  Didn’t quite work out that way.  LeBron took the game over, forcing one overtime, then another.  At one point, he scored 25 consecutive points for his team and finished having scored 29 of the final 30.  No Cavalier other than LeBron scored in the final 12:49 of the game.  However, thanks to LeBron’s 48 point, 9 rebound, 7 assist performance (who was he passing to?), the Cavaliers won the biggest game of his career to that point and eliminated the Pistons a couple days later.  Here’s what Simmons himself wrote about that performance:

“Well, Thursday night was ultra-special. Watching King James take over Game 5 and finally earn his nickname, I felt like something substantial was happening. Like my life as a basketball fan was being irrevocably altered.

Hold onto your seats, everybody … it’s happening! LeBron James is making the leap!

If you care about basketball, you’ll remember where you watched this game 20 years from now. If you care about basketball, it meant something when Marv Albert blessed the night by calling it “one of the greatest performances in NBA playoff history.”

Simmons couldn’t contain himself from overreacting to how LeBron had overcome his difficult circumstances:

This wasn’t just about the improbable 29-of-30 points barrage down the stretch, those two monster dunks at the end of regulation, the way he perservered [sic] despite a crummy coach and a mediocre supporting cast, how he just kept coming and coming, even how he made that game-winning layup look so damned easy. Physically, LeBron overpowered the Pistons.

With any other player in the league substituting for LeBron, the 2007 Cavaliers were a lottery team.  With LeBron, they went to the Finals.

A year later, he almost singlehandedly rescued his overmatched squad in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semis, losing a classic game 7 to the eventual champion Celtics, but only after offering up a 45-5-6 with 19 free throw attempts.  In that game, LeBron connected on 14 field goals and assisted on 6 and his entire team managed only 10 other field goals.  By the way, for those who would blame James for failing to inspire his team to perform better, imagining it’s the first week of June in 1990 and you are reading about how the Pistons just eliminated Michael Jordan and the Bulls for the 3rd straight year, thanks largely to the fact that the second best player on Chicago, Scottie Pippen, was a virtual no-show thanks in part to a migraine headache.  Dennis Rodman led the league in migraines caused in 1990.  That was an unofficial stat back then.  It was commonly believed that the Bulls were still quite a bit short of being championship ready. Eight years and six titles later, that assessment has been relegated to the dustbin of the Internet.

In 2009, an Orlando Magic team, that’s turning out to be quite a bit better than we thought, upset the Cavs in the conference finals and this year, the Celtics stunned the Cavs in the 2nd round.

Now, I get it.  LeBron was terrible in game 5, injury or no.  I also understand that he hasn’t won the championship, an accomplishment which has provided insulation for Kobe from criticism for his woeful performance in game 6 of the NBA Finals in 2008, which was quite comparable to LeBron’s stinker this year.  And how about Game 5 against the Pistons in 2005 for Tim Duncan?  If Robert Horry hadn’t worn the cape that year, the Pistons would’ve won back-to-back titles and Tim Duncan’s resume would be a little thinner right now.

I don’t know how the remainder of LeBron James’s career is going to play out.  I do know that he’s been great before and I have no reason to believe he won’t be great in the future.  He is going to win championships as soon as Mo Williams is no longer the best player he’s ever played with.  For all the critics out there ready to kick the man when he’s down, just remember that a man that big and strong hits back hard once he gets up.

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