LeBron in Game 6: If I can't do it, it can't be done. Photo by Elise Amendola (AP), courtesy of cnnsi.com.
Tom Robinson is almost certainly right: everyone would be better off with less sports talk radio in their lives (or even none at all).
Even so, LeBron James’ performance in the Heat’s woodshedding of the Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals makes me want to tune in today (at any hour of the day, to any host) to find out who eats his crow like a man.
ESPN’s Chris Palmer tweeted that LeBron became the first NBA player with 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists in a playoff game in 48 YEARS. The last player to put up that line? Wilt Chamberlain. Palmer also used the twitter machine to point out that Game 6 was LeBron’s 11th career 40-point playoff game. Among active players, only K. Bean Bryant, Esquire has more (13).
Yesterday afternoon, some local radio hosts were going on about Dwyane Wade’s post-Game 5 glasses (to be fair, the specs were a little silly – can Paul Pfeiffer have them back now?); one national host held forth on Wade and LeBron’s post-game sartorial decisions. The point of these meanderings seemed to be that Wade and LeBron care too much about how they look for the post-game presser. This is emblematic of a lack of competitive fire and toughness in the face of adversity and, according to the voices on the airwaves, shows that James, Wade, and the Heat lack the “heart” necessary to become champions.
With regard to Wade individually, this is absurd: he won a ring in 2006. Res ipsa.
Even taking that aside, it’s a stretch to assert that there is any correlation between an eye for fashion (however dubious) and the likelihood of winning a championship. Without going where better bloggers have gone before, the most obvious flaw of this “heart of a champion” claptrap is that it doesn’t account for the fact that only one team can win the title each year.
It’s always been extremely difficult to win an NBA crown; the number of legitimate contending teams in this year’s playoffs makes it even harder. Three of the four conference finalists (Spurs, Thunder, and Heat) were viewed as possible champions before the playoffs began. The Celtics have been a surprise thus far, but keep in mind that the core of the team is mostly intact from the 2008 title team and the 2010 team that lost in the Finals. The 2012 playoff field also included the defending NBA champions (admittedly, this Mavs team was a shadow of last year’s edition) and the always-dangerous Kobe and the Lake Show.
(By the way, when was the last time you thought about the Bulls, the top seed in the East? They didn’t make it out of the first round after they lost Derrick Rose. The threat of an injury to a key player is always hanging over every team.)
Any way you slice it, there are several very good NBA teams and several Hall of Fame players that won’t win a championship this year.
A look back to the 1990′s reveals a similar pattern. Did Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Karl Malone somehow fall short in the “heart” department? Did they fail to win a championship between them because they were too concerned with wardrobe decisions? Did they just not want to win badly enough?
Of course not – they just had the bad luck to play during the heyday of a dominant Chicago Bulls team led by the dominant player of the era, Michael Jordan.
Radio hosts would probably make the following counterargument: of course there are players with the requisite championship heart who failed to win a championship, but no player ever won a ring without the heart of a champion pumping the ice water through his veins! Take that, basement blogger!
Scroll back up, though. Jordan has six rings, Wilt had two. Jordan stayed out until the wee hours gambling during the playoffs; there’s no way Wilt got to 20,000 without a few sleepless nights before playoff games. Doesn’t being on the prowl like MJ or the Dipper show less commitment to winning than any conceivable post-game outfit?
Back to LeBron: no one will give the man his due. He does everything that people say they want NBA stars to do. First and foremost, he passes the ball. Not only does he play defense, he can guard anybody from point guards to power forwards. He cares about winning: he put aside his own ego/reputation/need-to-be-the-alpha to share top billing with Wade in Miami because he believed that gave him the best chance to win a title. (Cf. Kobe: how many championships would the Lakers have won if Kobe hadn’t needed to prove he could do it without the Big Aristotle?)
What’s LeBron’s reward for all of that (other than huge paychecks, signature sneakers, and State Farm commercials)? He gets to be living proof that no good deed goes unpunished.
To watch LeBron is to witness basketball greatness. You may not like it, but you have to respect it. Stop sniping around the edges and appreciate it while it lasts.
Once more, with feeling! Photo by Charles Krupa (AP), courtesy of cnnsi.com.