HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James still has work to do to solidify his legacy. He still has to stare down his crunch-time demons in the fourth quarter of a season and have a potentially career-defining moment to chase away his haters. He still has to win a championship to shut us all up and to validate all the premature coronation that’s gone on since he was 16.
But there is one debate that needs to come to an end today: the notion that James is riding shotgun on Dwyane Wade‘s team needs an immediate obituary. It’s simply not the case, and never has been as far as we can tell.
Batman wears No. 6 in Miami, folks. And last night’s performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder is the latest statement to that point from James, who outdueled Kevin Durant in their second MVP showdown in the past two weeks (Durant won Round 1 in Oklahoma City 10 days ago) and made you forget that Wade and Chris Bosh were on his team as he went off on the Thunder.
The MVP race between James and Durant has a couple of weeks to go before we crown a winner (even though our main man Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman, and this week’s Hang Time Podcast, made his decision last night).
The MVP of the Heat is a race that ended months ago. This is a team that rises and falls on the shoulders of James. And it has been that way since the Heat fell to the Mavericks in The Finals last year.
If it’s ultimately his responsibility when they fail, why wouldn’t he be equally responsible when they succeed?
When Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says, “Without even being biased, I think he’s the best two-way player in this league,” he’s not exactly breaking news. James has been the best two-way player in the league since the George W. Bush administration.
There are those nights, like last night, when it becomes abundantly clear just how mercurial a force James can be. And as Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post points out, this was James embracing it all (the pressure, the hate, the moment) in a way that only the best can:
What James didn’t do Wednesday was shake off the burden. Rather, he demanded it. The circumstances demanded that. On a night that Chris Bosh didn’t come strong, and Dwyane Wade (back from a one-game absence) wasn’t especially sharp, James took control.
He recorded 34 points and 10 assists, playing a direct role in 20 of the Heat’s 31 field goals.
Less quantifiable and more notable?
How he directed the action on both ends.
“LeBron took the challenge,” Bosh said.
He took Durant’s best, and dished out better.
After Durant cut the Heat lead to two by stroking a three, James countered by storming to the hoop.
After Durant trimmed the Heat edge to one with a nifty lefty lay-up, James and Udonis Haslem blocked shots to keep the Thunder from pulling ahead – before James pulled out of his bag of tricks an acrobatic fallaway bank.
And after Durant’s alley-oop from Westbrook got the Thunder within 94-93 with 2:34 left, James made it just difficult enough, with Durant wildly sticking a corner jumper on the top of the backboard, and later missing a three-pointer well short.
If you want James to take the heat during the bad times, when he’s slumping, when the Heat falls, then you have to give him his due during the good times, when he’s soaring and when the Heat shines.
And it really doesn’t matter how much you love or hate James, how devoted you are to Wade or anything else. There is really no way around it!