And we are all witnesses.
LeBron Raymone James has what you might call a history at the TD Garden. It was there, in Game 6 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, that his career as a Cleveland Cavalier came to a close. It was then that he became a quitter. It was there, on the first game of the 2010-2011 season, that the boos rained down on him and his new team, the Miami Heat. The Heat would lose that game to the aging Celtics, and it was there that he became a villain.
Then, last night, just over two years since the loss in Game 6 ended his career as a Cavalier, with his team facing elimination, he put together one of the greatest playoff performances of history, and at the age of 27, he became a man.
Just put yourself in LeBron’s $200 shoes for a moment. Throughout the playoffs, and throughout the Eastern Conference Finals, he has played well. In fact, with Chris Bosh out and Dwyane Wade taking the first half of every game off, he basically carried the Miami Heat team. Regardless of his Heraklian efforts, he could not silence the haters. The haters that hate for no apparent reason. The haters who won’t appreciate his outstanding play. The haters who won’t give him the same breaks they give anyone else. With his team one game away from failing to win the first of not 5, not 6, not 7 championships, whispers of major changes in South Beach began to circulate. If the Heat did not win, Erik Spoelstra was going to lose his job. At least one of 3rd °Burn was going to be traded.
To make matters worse, this defining game had to be played at the TD Garden, where he had failed so horribly two years ago, and where the roller coaster of the South Beach Experiment began. Tens of thousands of angry Irish-Americans would be screaming at him to fail for 48 minutes. Have you seen The Town? Irish-Americans mean business, especially when they’re angry.
And to top it all off, this came just one day after Kevin Durant produced a terrific performance in a close-out game to reach the Finals at age 23. Suddenly, the talking heads started saying he was the best player in the NBA.
It was in this situation that LeBron found himself last night. To say he was under pressure would be like saying the guy in The Hurt Locker had a mildly stressful occupation. Could you really blame him if he crumbled?
But he didn’t crumble. He didn’t hide behind D-Wade. He didn’t embrace the role of villain. He didn’t make promises he couldn’t keep. He didn’t taunt the crowd. He didn’t choke.
He took command of the game from the beginning and the Boston Celtics were powerless to stop him. He drove aggressively to the hoop, he made extremely difficult jumpshots, he soared for rebounds, and he threw down ferocious dunks. And he did it all without a smile. Without a cute little handshake with Dwyane Wade. Without an arrogant sideline dance. Even after his earth-shattering dunks, he kept himself controlled, without so much as an air-punch. There was no ferocious Kevin Garnett roar, no Blake Griffin stare-down face, no Yancy Gates or Terrence Jones bloodwrath, not even a Black Mamba bared teeth. Just a quiet look of determination. He wasn’t acting or exaggerating. For a complete game, he let his game tell us something so many of us try to ignore. He is the best basketball player alive.
After the game he kept his cool. He gave a very nice and very measured post-game interview with Doris Burke. And then he trotted to the visitors locker room.
While walking into the tunnel, just short of where he pulled his Cavaliers jersey off two years ago, he smiled. I don’t know why, perhaps a fan said something funny/insulting, maybe he was just so full of joy, but for a brief moment a genuine smile appeared on his face. A few steps later, the smile was gone, and his look of quiet, thoughtful determination reappeared.
Don’t let the beard, the tattoos, and the muscles fool you; LeBron has played in a man’s game as a child for a long time. But last night, facing a team of grown men, men who will be in the Hall of Fame one day, he grew up. No acting, no lights, no superhero shenanigans. Just LeBron and a basketball, facing the world.
My money’s on LeBron.
What do you think of LeBron’s game? Will he be able to close out Boston tomorrow night? Like, comment, subscribe, post to Facebook. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.