Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The King ascendant

I never much liked the whole "King James" tag for LeBron James, because early on it sounded presumptuous and later it played into the false narrative of the haters, who saw in "King James" an outlandish self-regard which I have tried hard to see, but simply can't.

I like the guy. I think he's one of the two or three greatest basketball players of my lifetime, and a decent human being, besides.

And now I'm finally coming around on the regal aspect.

If you have missed what he's done in the last week -- and I wouldn't blame you if you did, this being June and no proper time to be playing basketball -- you have missed one of the great shows in NBA Finals history. Shouldering more burden than perhaps any player has in the Finals since Jerry West in the 1960s, LeBron has somehow hauled his flawed and broken team to a 2-1 lead over the fearsome Golden State Warriors.

Last night his Cavaliers dropped the Warriors 96-91 in front of a delirious home crowd in Cleveland, and once again it was mostly LeBron against the world. The numbers were 40 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and two blocks. In three Finals games, he's averaging 41 points, 12 rebounds and 8.3 assists -- in an inhuman 47.3 minutes per game.

It is, quite simply, the greatest individual performance in an NBA Finals in my memory. The man is almost literally putting an entire team on his back in an effort to bring home a title to his title-starved next-door-to-hometown. You can't believe he can keep doing this, and then he keeps doing it.

And, listen, it hasn't happened yet, and there's a good chance it won't. Golden State finally seemed to find its rhythm late in Game 3, an indication that the Warriors are far from finished. If they win Game 4, the ball's in their court again.

But if that happens, and the Warriors do go on to win the title, LeBron James will still be the Finals MVP, especially if it goes seven games. It would be laughable if it were otherwise.

Conventional wisdom says that's how it's going to play out. The Warriors are deeper, more talented, healthier. Sooner or later, the Cavs, shedding healthy players like October leaves, will simply wear out. Won't they?

Of course they will.

But it hasn't happened yet. And now we're down to four more games, tops. And so a wild, heretical notion is beginning to take form.

Conventional wisdom better hurry, it says.

Because it's running out of time.


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