Lebron James evil looking game face tapped into the Dark Side during last night's game
I’m a Celtics fan, but I’m also a basketball fan, and what Lebron James did last night is something that basketball fans have been waiting for a long time to see. In fact, you could argue that basketball fans have been waiting to see something like this since the famous “48 Special” in 2007.
Let’s take a look into the time-machine. The day is May 31st, 2007 and the Eastern Conference Finals is tied at 2 games a piece between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons. Lebron James in only his fourth full season in the NBA, James was starting to solidify himself as a star in the league but he still needed a moment. In order to become one of the greatest players in the game, each player needs a moment in the spotlight in the playoffs that everyone talks about for years to come. If Cleveland made the NBA Finals, it meant that Lebron would have to have his moment. This would be the series that Lebron James would solidify himself as the best player alive. With the series tied 2-2, Lebron James picked a perfect time to make the leap. Lebron took over, scoring 29 of the final 30 Cavalier points including every point in overtime and double overtime to give the Cavaliers the 3-2 lead in the series going back to Cleveland.
It was a fascinating performance. Lebron James was different from the Jordan’s and the Bird’s and their take-overs. He made the defensive oriented Detroit Pistons give up. He simply overpowered them. Lebron ran through Pistons double teams like they weren’t even there. No matter what the Pistons threw at him, they couldn’t stop him. We were watching a different animal take the court and this type of thing was supposed to become the norm for Lebron James.
Yet, it never materialized. Lebron would turn in other great playoff performances, but they either came in early rounds against sub-par teams or in losing efforts in major spots in the playoffs. No matter what, it never seemed that Lebron James could find it in the big spots. It’s why everyone freaked out when Lebron James joined Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. Here was a guy who was supposed to become the greatest basketball player of this generation, with a will to win and to lead his team to glory. Here he was copping out. He was choosing to join the Miami Heat instead of pushing through and being the unquestioned leader of his championship.
Since then, Lebron James has been questioned and psychoanalyzed like no other athlete in sports. Since the “48 special” Lebron had failed to come through when it matters most for his basketball team. When the pressure rises, Lebron would wilt from the moment. The second half of last year’s NBA FInals, Game 5 of this year’s Eastern Conference Finals, each game was just supposed to be another example of how Lebron James fears the moments and how we would never be able to re-capture his greatest moment again, Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals.
Last night, Lebron James said that enough was enough. Lebron James tapped into some unknown potential that we didn’t believe he possessed anymore. We said he feared attacking the basket in big games. He flew towards the basket with ferocity and energy of an unstoppable train. We said that he hadn’t developed a post-game. He hit fall-away jumpers with the ease of Dirk Nowitzki in the face of the Celtics defenders. We kept believing that he would wilt under the pressure, that Lebron would stop scoring and the Celtics would make a run and re-take the lead. He struck down every single Celtics run with a shot that was a lot tougher than he made it appear. Lebron finally reached that moment once again.
But there was something inherently different about last night’s performance compared to the “48 Special” of five years ago. Perhaps the strain of the media and the constant backlash against Lebron James has finally taken it’s toll on Lebron James. The Lebron in 2007 was locked-in, but he did it with a smile on his face and just did what ever he could to get the Cavaliers to the Finals. He looked like he was having fun out there. Lebron last year looked locked in a different way. He looked angry, like he wanted to put this performance on not because he wanted the Miami Heat to win the game and get back to Miami for Game 7, but for the Skip Bayless’ and Tim Legler’s and Tas Melas’ of the world to shut the ‘eff up about how he is an overrated superstar and not clutch. Two very different Lebron’s.
One of my favorite shots of the “48 special” was after another Pistons time-out after yet another Lebron James dunk through traffic. Lebron came back to the bench exhausted, with a look on his face that we was pouring his heart and soul into that game. Cavaliers coach Mike Brown comes over to Lebron James and puts his arm around his shoulder and Lebron continues to look exhausted. At this moment, Brown whispers something in his ear, something that can only be guessed to be “We’re behind you, keep going kid” or something along those lines. It was a moment that made Lebron seemed human and yet he was performing these inhuman feats of strength.
There was none of those moments last night. There was one Lebron James look, that angry “Me against the world” scowl on his face. He barely broke a sweat, he always walked to back to his spot on the bench during his time-outs without needing a word of advice from his coach or anything along those lines. When he gave his half-time and post-game interviews, he had that one tone that said he was serious and angry and we going to make everyone pay in this game.
When he joined the Heat two summer’s ago, there was a talk that he was taking the easy way out, that he was becoming the “bad-guy” of the league and evil. In the world of Star Wars, fear and anger leads to the Dark Side, which despite what the Jedi say, is certainly more powerful than the Jedi ways of the force.
Last night the fear of failure and his anger towards all the haters allowed him to become more powerful than we could possibly imagine. If he’s finally accepted that, it is a scary thought.
It’s just sad that we lost that young Lebron that could take-over a game with a smile on his face.