Let’s be honest.
Without LeBron James, the Cavs never would have made it out of the first round of the playoffs. They probably would have been swept in four games by Indiana.
With LeBron, the Cavs are one win away from the NBA Finals.
If, with another superhuman effort, he pulls this off, if he drags the Cavs across the finish line ahead of the Celtics Sunday in Boston — where logic, home-court advantage and a direct violation of all known physical limitations on recovery time, endurance and stamina of the human body are working against him — this will be LeBron’s Mona Lisa.
If, when the scoreboard reads triple zeros, the Cavs have more points than Boston, LeBron can rightfully leap onto the scorer’s table — yes, even in a foreign gym — pound his chest and bellow at the crowd, as Babe Ruth did after hitting his history-making 60th home run in 1927, “Let’s see some son of a b—— match that!”
Talking to you, Michael, Magic, Larry and Kareem.
To these eyes, LeBron is the greatest basketball player ever. There has never been a greater combination of size, strength, speed, intelligence and skill in a single package. There’s never been anyone like this. He is the perfect basketball machine.
So much so that it’s easy to take what we’re seeing for granted. To not fully appreciate the enormity of what we’re witnessing. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst put it best when he said LeBron has “normalized greatness.”
Nobody plays like this even once, much less jaw-dropping game after jaw-dropping game. Nobody. Nobody except LeBron.
In 1965, after watching Jack Nicklaus win the Masters with a tournament record score of 271, nine strokes better than second-place finishers Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, the great Bobby Jones said of Nicklaus, “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.”
NBA players probably feel the same about LeBron. Nobody plays like he plays. Nobody does what he does. Nobody thinks like he thinks. And nobody dominates like he dominates.
Without LeBron, this is a mediocre Cavs roster. Maybe even a lottery team. With LeBron, the Cavs are one win away from the Eastern Conference championship, and another trip to the NBA Finals.
It would be — this is insane — the eighth consecutive year LeBron has taken his team to the Finals.
He plays a game with which his peers are not familiar.
Opposing coaches have always loved LeBron because he plays the game the right way. Every time he takes the floor he’s the smartest and most-skilled player out there.
They not only don’t make ’em like LeBron anymore, they never made ’em before he got here, and there won’t be any like him after he, pardon the expression, leaves.
The question at hand tonight, in a hostile environment, against a quality team filled with youthful exuberance trying to make their bones by taking The Big Man down, is whether LeBron can will his so-so supporting cast to a conference championship that has seemed unlikely since that fateful day last summer.
It was a fateful day because it altered the course of a franchise and, potentially, its landmark, iconic player, whose own looming decision to be made at the end of this Cavs season, whenever that may be, is the elephant in the locker room.
Are these magic moments of incandescent, unprecedented brilliance that he’s given us in this playoff season his going away present to the adoring geographic region that produced him?
Regardless of what happens tonight — whether this is it or whether the Cavs live to play another series — LeBron’s looming decision on his basketball future makes The Land nervous. Very nervous.
Will he leave? Could you blame him? He did what he said he came back here to do: win a championship for his hometown team. He’s never been chummy with the owner. He liked the previous general manager, the one who was fired. He can’t be enamored with the new one, the rookie GM, who made that day last summer fateful with a decision, the repercussions of which may echo achingly throughout the organization for the next five years:
He traded Kyrie Irving just because Irving asked him to.
That decision, and all that came after it in the most turbulent, chaotic, disjointed season in Cavs history, made LeBron’s job exponentially harder.
Play harder. He played every single game in the regular season for the first time in his career.
He’s played every single game in the playoffs, and absolutely dominated most of them.
He’s almost single-handedly delivered his team — which is the second or third version of the one he started the season with — onto the doorstep of another trip to the NBA Finals,
Name another player in the league who could do all that.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
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