Kane Fitzgerald is going to be the answer to a trivia question someday: Who was the first — and maybe only, when all is said and done — official to eject LeBron James from a basketball game?
It happened Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, where 15th-year pro James got ejected for the first time in 1,082 career games as the Cavaliers beat the Miami Heat 108-97.
Quick-Trigger Fitz, however, already has plenty of company when it comes to officials who don’t call many obvious fouls simply because the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James is so strong he plows right through many of them.
Consider this: Though he aggressively drives to the hoop numerous times in every game, James entered Wednesday ranked 19th in the league with 5.38 free throw attempts a game.
Let that sink in for a moment.
This hulk of a man attempts fewer free throws than rail-thin Kristaps Porzingis (7.33), 3-point shooter Stephen Curry (6.63), jump-shooting Bradley Beal (5.75) and sinewy Andrew Wiggins (5.48).
Heck, James even attempts fewer free throws than teammate Kevin Love, who jumped to 15th in the league (5.76) after going 14-for-17 against Miami.
(For those who care, Houston’s James Harden led the league through Tuesday with 9.25 attempts per game.)
Now for a quick disclaimer: James repeatedly gets away with traveling — sometimes four or even five steps — and is allowed a great degree of latitude on the defensive end in a league where everyone knows superstars are treated differently by the referees.
That said, he routinely gets fouled on drives to the hoop and gets no call because he’s so strong that he scores easily.
Imagine, though, if James hit a 6-2, 190-pound player as hard as some of those players have hit him. Not only would he be called for a foul, he’d sometimes be issued a flagrant foul as well.
Then arena workers could come out and scrape the opposing player’s carcass off the floor.
James denied after the Miami game that his ejection was due to pent up frustration over not getting calls for much of his career, but his comments indicated the exact opposite.
The 32-year-old said he felt like officials were trying to turn him into a jump shooter by not rewarding him with free throws after drives to the hoop, but vowed never to let that change his game. He went on to say that even many jump shooters shoot more free throws than he does.
Statistics prove he’s exactly right, and that isn’t right.
Whether James deserved to get ejected is subject to debate. Fitzgerald only called one technical foul, then immediately tossed James, who had swung his arm in anger and was moving toward him while also allegedly spewing profanities.
“I just thought it was quick,” teammate and longtime friend Dwyane Wade said. “I mean, a player like him, you give him the benefit of the doubt. He says something, you give him a tech, kind of walk away and let him calm down. That’s it. That’s all I got on that.”
If there’s a positive in all this, it’s that James’ ejection came with 1:59 left in the third period and the Cavs leading by 23 points.
If there’s an even bigger positive for James and the Cavs, it will be that the best player in basketball starts getting more calls at the rim.
As an aside — and this isn’t meant to defend or excuse James’ actions — how many times has Golden State’s Draymond Green displayed similar antics and not even been issued a technical, let alone been ejected?
Now that the Cavs have improved their record to 14-7 by winning nine games in a row, James could very well be on his way to his fifth league MVP award.
All he’s done is average 28.2 points, which ranked third in the league through Tuesday, 8.3 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks. On top of that, his field goal percentage (.579) and 3-point percentage (.420) are career highs.
As impressive as all those numbers are, James has been even better when it comes to the eye test.
Following the lead of guys like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, who continued to expand their skills as they aged, his mid-range game is better than it has ever been.
Better still, he remains fully capable of getting to the hole any time he’s defended closely — and oftentimes even when he’s not.
Plus, he’s capable of being a lock-down defender on the opponent’s best player whenever he’s asked to do so.
It looks like James’ primary competition for MVP will come from Harden, who leads the league in scoring (31.6) and assists (9.8), with Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo also worthy of consideration.
James won the award in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 while setting such a high personal standard that it worked against him in subsequent years.
But if the Cavs continue to win and move toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings, 2018 will be added to that list.