How can you describe LeBron James?
I could fill this page with some laudatory platitudes and some readers would agree with every word. Others would laugh in my face. Most people over 30 would reflexively yell “6-for-6! 6 Finals MVPs!” at the mere mention of James.
All I know for sure is LeBron is the greatest player I’ve ever seen. Is he infallible? Of course not. No one is. Even Beyoncé slipped during her iconic Super Bowl 50 performance.
But Beyoncé, like the greats tend to do, rebounded so quickly and effortlessly that her rare moment of breaking choreography was actually impressive. Where we mere mortals would have dropped like 3rd period French, she made bouncing back look easy. You wonder if she tripped, or you just blinked.
I initially thought that Cleveland would sweep this Eastern Conference Finals because the Cavaliers looked so good against Toronto, but like Beyoncé – James stumbled in the series. His 15 points on 5-for-15 shooting in Game 1. His apparent fatigue starting in the first quarter of Game 5. And like Bey, James couldn’t count on his backup dancers to back them up in their most vulnerable moments.
Doris + LeBron. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Cleveland attempted to answer this question all season…who besides LeBron? This postseason it was given the answer we all knew…no one. The Isaiah Thomas + Dwyane Wade was the wrong answer, the Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and George Hill quadrumvirate seemed to provide more questions than answers. There was no perfect solution for the Cavaliers. Dick Grayson never stumbled into Quicken Loans Arena to provide any answers for Batman.
While their roster re-organization created scary revelations for Cleveland, their opponents evoked equal, if not greater fear. The Celtics were young, talented and scrappy. If Kyrie Irving was healthy this postseason, the might of King James may not have been enough. As great as LeBron is, he was pushed to Game 7 by one All-Star in Al Horford and budding stars like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two players still not old enough to drink or to get into the club.
Tatum, Brown and Terry Rozier have been the breakout names. Three guys on rookie contracts, with less than 7 years of NBA experience between them, lead the Celtics to one game away from the NBA Finals. Boston has a dearth of talent and quality-value assets, Irving returning to a nucleus he played with all season, and then there’s the unknown quantity of Gordon Hayward, who logged an entire five minutes this season before bowing out due to injury.
They’ll be among the favorites to win the Eastern Conference next season, no matter where LeBron decides to play. Kyrie already is a perfect fit, and Hayward has spent a year learning the culture and strategy of Boston. If Brad Stevens can keep all the moving parts happy, this team will be a real threat to shake the Warriors’ grip atop the league. Boston is versatile, can mix and match on the perimeter, and play at their best while moving the ball around. Boston established itself as a threat in the East, and in doing so, they almost made LeBron late for his normal June dinner reservations.
Where does that leave the world’s best player? Boston is a young tech start-up to Golden State’s Apple. The Rockets and 76ers loom large as formidable opponents going forward. Cleveland has a chance at retaining LeBron, but how much further can he grow his legacy in a place that’s proving to not be the best basketball fit moving forward?
The only reason I believed the Cavaliers could win the East is on blind faith that James would ratchet his play up a notch – which he did, time after time during the conference finals. However, it seems that LeBron’s tank is now on E and his teammates are only offering $5 gas money. He proved that he can still rev the engine vs. the Celtics, but when the gas light came on in Game 5, there was no refuel in sight.
The question is, can he find a way to recover like he did in Game 6 and Game 7, averaging 40/13/9 while spending less than 2 minutes of game time on the bench, against the burgeoning dynasty that is the Golden State Warriors?
During this Eastern Conference escapade, we expected this from LeBron. The money at the sportsbooks from betting.org suggested the same. The question was always, “When will LeBron…” versus “will LeBron do it again?” Or worse, “can LeBron?” However, just like we expected Beyoncé to recover and continue her set, we expect LeBron to bounce back. It’s a testament to their historical greatness. Yet, these awesome feats of human achievement should be shocks to our system.
When artists paint, few expect to see Mona Lisa. When artists sing, few expect to witness the artist would be nominated for 62 Grammys. When basketball players hoop, few expect to see historical dominance in Game 7 time and time again.
The first revolution is when you change your mind about how you look at things, and see there might be another way to look at it that you have not been shown.