Welcome To The Club, LeBron

Sunday, June 03, 2007

(OMDQ does not watch much basketball, but likes to think he recognizes greatness when he sees it)

(You're getting this picture for one reason and one reason only: because the original caption read, "Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, right, hugs Zydrunas Ilgauskas, of Lithuania, after the Cavaliers beat the Detroit Pistons 98-82 to win the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals Saturday, June 2, 2007, in Cleveland." For some reason, the fact that the caption writers found it necessary to include Ilgauskas' nationality makes me chuckle.)

LeBron James was already a member of the "People Who Are Identifiable By One Name Only" Hall of Fame, but the last few days have helped catapult him into another club with even more exclusive membership: the "People I Will Make A Special Effort To Watch" club.

In any other year, Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals would not have been Must See TV in my household. Yeah, I might have tuned in for a few minutes and seen how things were progressing, but chances are the visit would not have lasted long before I continued looking around for other options. Don't hold it against me - I'm just not much of a basketball guy (note: this doesn't really apply to the Celtics. At worst, they get left on for background noise).

Tonight, however, was different - and it was all because of AA's live-blog on Thursday night.

Like much of Cleveland, I wasn't overly thrilled about Game 5 of this series. Yeah, the Cavs and Pistons were knotted at two games apiece. Yeah, it was the only good sporting option available (no Red Sox, at least). But the only reason I tuned in was because the live-blog added an extra degree of interest - interest that was sorely needed after an excruciating first half and a third quarter in which I fell asleep for fifteen minutes and considered just going to bed.

Thankfully, I chose to stay awake and bear witness to one of the greatest individual basketball performances in recent memory. LeBron James, who had come under fire from all corners for perceived tentativeness earlier in the series, offered a visual demonstration that should have silenced even the most ardent of critics. He beat defenders 1-on-1 for easy dunks. He drained off-balance ten footers. He might have hit a couple of threes. He was, plainly and simply, unstoppable.

And best of all, as noted on another blog (if anyone knows where this came from, let me know and they'll definitely get credit), he did it all with a cold calculation that we haven't seen before. Part of the LeBron playbook to this point has been an "angry face", a scary-looking sneer that isn't really that scary and can come off as contrived. There was none of that on Thursday. He wasn't concerned with showing off how tough he was and how badly he wanted to win - he was concerned with demonstrating, through his actions on the court, how tough he was and how badly he wanted to win. At some point in the fourth quarter, he realized the same thing that all the greats realize - that actions, the way you play the game, always speak louder than mere words or meaningless gestures.

Because of that performance, which I was watching only because I wanted to follow the live-blog through to the end, I tuned in for Game 6 - not the whole thing, not without flipping a little to see what else was going on in sports, but enough to gain a sense of the situation (and to do something I very rarely do: beg my wife to put the game back on. Usually I bury my nose in the Internet while she contentedly watches HGTV. Not tonight, babe).

Was LeBron as good as he was on Thursday? No - how could he be? The thing was, though, that his teammates seemed to be playing inspired ball - are you kidding me, Daniel Gibson? 31 points? 19 in the fourth quarter? - and the Pistons seemed to be at the same place the Cavs were with time dwindling in the fourth quarter of Game 5: on the verge of implosion.

The series ended, for all intents and purposes, when Rasheed Wallace was called for an offensive foul in the fourth quarter. He was being defended by Anderson Varejao, a man with a serious flopping problem. As soon as Sheed got the ball in the post and started backing Varejao toward the basket, I began to wonder what would happen, if the flopping allegations were as blatant as I had been led to believe.

Then Wallace flipped his elbow into Varejao's ribs, a move that apparently was performed with enough force to knock the Cavalier to the floor. Sheed was unhappy (to say the least) and showed it on the other end, earning another foul almost immediately and following that up with his seventh technical of the playoffs. Just like that, he was gone, and so were the Pistons: they never challenged again.

Still, this game was important to me because of LeBron and the way he played each game. In Game 5, he was dominant, scoring at will and carrying his team to the win. In Game 6, he didn't force the issue of individual performance, absorbing a rough shooting performance and allowing Gibson to take control when it became evident that he held the hot hand.

Long story short, LeBron James became, in these last two games, a member of my own personal "Must See" club. It's not a big group - Roger Federer is in, along with David Ortiz and Tom Hanks, to cite a few cross-industry examples - but whenever they are on and I either know beforehand or catch them while flipping through the channels, they catch my attention. From now on, LeBron James and the Cavaliers are required viewing, for the simple reason that I never know what I might miss if I don't watch.

Posted by One More Dying Quail at 12:10 AM


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