- Heat-Spurs: Finals Hub
MIAMI – So now there’s a headband to throw into the equation, to factor into LeBron James‘ production and psyche, maybe to mark time against for everything LeBronesque before and after.
Up until that moment in the frantic fourth quarter Tuesday when James went hard to basket and emerged without that sweaty swatch of elasticized terry cloth, the world could only judge him, evaluate him, criticize him and decree his legacy as with the headband.
Now suddenly there was a brand new opportunity. To judge him, evaluate him, criticize him and decree his legacy without the headband.
Ooh, imagine the advanced-analytics possibilities. The re-re-defining of his “clutch” gear, based on his ability to withstand all the previous pressures along with new scrutiny of the man’s unusual on-court look and freshly exposed retreating hairline.
“I’ve never seen him play without his headband that long, since his rookie year,” said teammate Dwyane Wade, a fashion maven known to wear tangerine trousers and man capris.
Inevitably, the statistical breakdowns came: 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting with the headband, 12 points on 5-of-11 without it. Pro-rated out to 36 minutes, James …
It is silly. It is over the top.
It is unfair.
Every game, every quarter, every possession cannot be a referendum on James’ career. Well, OK, it can be, but going that route will only say profound things about the electorate, not the certain Hall of Famer and already all-time great drawing the endless and ever-changing “yeas” and “nays.”
It should have stopped last June, after James and the Miami Heat won the championship that took them – gasp! – two years rather than one. It should have stopped with the Finals MVP trophy he cradled along with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the post-Game 5 celebration last June.
It surely should have stopped when he and the rest of Team USA took care of Olympic business in London. Or when he led the Heat through their 27-game winning streak this season. Or when he swamped the MVP balloting, snagging his fourth Podoloff.
But no, he is only as good or as bad as whatever particular sample size a critic or an advocate chooses to select. James is judged and surmised and assessed as a work in progress like no other player in NBA history, arguably, the rush to pronouncements and conclusions coming faster than he can complete a round-trip downcourt.
“I always kind of focus on the present,” James said a couple days ago.
Too many of his witnesses focus on the forever, reaching for legacy and wishing this was some sort of book so they could cheat and flip to the back pages. They’re not content just to write or give oral testimony for the first drafts of history, either. No, it’s all about chiseling the final edit now, while he’s still working on things.
As if that ever works. How would the world think of Churchill if his story were written in the 1930s, during his “wilderness years” in exile from British politics before World War II? What would the experts have decided had they walked in on Picasso in mid-canvas, before he’d decided that two eyes can go on one side of the head?
Meeting every challenge all at once is impossible. Even agreeing on every challenge – be Michael, be Magic, win rings, stay loyal to your roots, carry the team, make those guys better – is a long shot.
And still it comes. The Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Web site carried a column Wednesday by veteran scribe Bill Livingston headlined, “LeBron James has a long way to go in establishing a great NBA Finals legacy, regardless of what happens in Game 7.” It read in part:
Ten years, and still no defined legacy. What’s a global icon to do?
James has more of the baubles of greatness than anyone playing now in his four Most Valuable Player awards. It is a regular-season honor, which is meant to show that such tedium does so mean something. James enjoys, even revels in, global fame and scrutiny. Attention for James is what stats were for [Wilt] Chamberlain. He can’t live without it.
Granted, this is Cleveland, the jilted lover with the haunted heart. But c’mon, it’s an old trope that ranges somewhere between incomplete and dishonest, this sense that James still has much to prove and can be redefined on a moment’s notice as befits an audience as small as one.
Anyone trying to do that through Game 6 would have been caught in multiple contradictions, circling back on oneself to revise the revisions.
In yet another biggest game of his life, Miami’s season on the brink, James was 3-of-12 for a modest 14 points through three quarters (bum). In the fourth quarter he grabbed his Heat teammates by the scruffs of their necks, scored 16 points and breathed life back into their quest to repeat (god). He missed jumpers and let Boris Diaw puzzle him (bum), accounted for nine points in an 11-3 run with field goals or assists (god), threw the ball away twice in the last minute (bum), missed a 3-pointer (bum), hit one (god) and missed one (bum).
When the smoke cleared and the Miami (cough) fans who missed the finish were shooed away from the “No Re-Entry” signs for the last time, James had 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, and as the folks at Elias reported it, joined only Bill Russell (1962) and James Worthy (1988) in posting a triple-double in a game that staved off elimination.
“An absolute desperation and will,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “To do it on both ends – obviously, he had an extremely tough cover with [Spurs point guard Tony] Parker, making every play for us, really aggressive, able to get into the paint. But just gave us that life when we were down by 10.”
Said Tim Duncan: “He kind of willed it.”
It’s what he does. It’s what he has done. It should be enough by now. But the sports world has James pinned down under the microscope slide and it’s not letting up.
Even after Ray Allen‘s remarkable 3-pointer sent Game 6 into overtime – it’s what he does – there were those wondering about James’ screaming for the basketball, way out top, eager for the shot. Please.
“Everything we do starts with him,” Allen said. “If he has great energy, if he has bad energy, we feel it, the rest of the team. I always try to make sure … he understands how his aura, his energy, has an effect on the rest of the team. And we always need it to be great energy.
“So it’s a terrible burden, but for one guy, he has to make sure that he always keeps the energy and that positivity flowing in the right direction. Because we do all follow suit.”
As Tuesday turned to Wednesday, James rightfully got credit from those who were honest for seizing the game he and his team dared not lose. Yet he’ll go through it all again in Game 7 Thursday, more so if Miami loses its next game but even if it wins.
There will be a silly headband watch, no doubt – Will he wear one? If he does, might he doff it? – and it will mean exactly as much as those focusing on it want it to mean.
It’s the way of James and the life critics have chosen for him.