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NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 6: The LeBron referendum

May 13, 2010, 9:53 AM EDT

James_solo.jpgUsually when a sportswriter makes the statement “Game X is the most important game of Player X’s career” it belies a rather pathetic lack of imagination and a pandering to traditional cliched writing. Every playoff game is the most important one, because every one could end up defining his career. What do people remember more, Hakeem Olajuwon’s performances in the Finals, or his domination of David Robinson? That’s what can happen. You have to approach every game like that, because these things aren’t scripted.

So please understand the gravity of the situation when I say that Game 6 in Boston of the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals is the most important game of LeBron James’ career.

The once-and-future-King may never reach his throne if he were to fail tonight to carry his top-seeded Cavaliers to a win. James, as you may have heard in about a billion ways and we told you the other night, had a performance that puts a blemish on his ridiculously brilliant career, one which threatens to submarine his entire legacy if Boston closes out at home as any Finals contender would do.

James’ performance has been shredded from coast to coast. We’re not talking “oh, hey, bad time to have a bad game” territory. We’re talking “maybe this guy just doesn’t have the will of a champion, because he had zero effort” land. It has brought about what may be the most staggering repudiation of a player’s status as the pre-eminent Greatest Player of Our Time. James faces a mark against his permanent record that would be akin in the job marketplace to “once set fire to his boss’ office while engaging in inappropriate behavior with the cleaning lady on the boss’ desk.” That’s what “doesn’t have the will to be great” means in the NBA for a player of his status.

One thing that’s been occurring to me over the past two days, along with how ridiculous it is that people are questioning whether he is the best player in the NBA* , is that James has never needed the drive to succeed. He just has. Since he was probably 13, he’s been a phenom. A legend. He was the best player on the court, until he arrived in the NBA, and then he was probably second or third at worst, and then only for a few seasons. He made the Finals at age 22. He was the MVP at 24. He’s averaged 49.9 wins per season since entering the league. He has had the full weight of Nike behind him since the beginning. He has been the crown jewel of the league arguably for the last four seasons. He’s never been faced with a situation where he was legitimately challenged to the degree he is now, never faced with so much pressure to be the difference between a win and a loss.

This isn’t to say that this should be all on him. Every great player has had great players step up to provide support when the shots aren’t falling. And the Cavs have never, not with all their trades, not with all their time to do do, have never brought in a true number two option for James. They thought it would be Antawn Jamison, but Jamison has ran into a matchup nightmare in the Celtics. It’s just not every game you have to check Kevin Garnett who suddenly feels 30 again. Shaquille O’Neal brought 21 points on 11 shots in Game 5, but it was largely irrelevant. And Mo Williams? Do we really even need to bring him up?

So tonight James is on his own. 1 on 5. And if he wants to live up to the expectations that have been built for him, or that he has built for himself (depending on who you talk to), he’s going to have to put it all on his shoulders.

Or elbow, as it were.

And by playing, by not sitting out, by not opting for surgery, if indeed he needs it as the rumors continue to suggest, he has opened himself for this. The elbow will not be accepted as an excuse. It will not be considered brave that he tried to play through a severe injury. It will be only that he shrunk in the biggest moments. His Game 5 in 2007 will be a footnote. His Finals appearance will be overshadowed by the valley of nothingness his past two years. And with the very real possibility of him relocating to another franchise in the next two months, this may be his last shot at a championship for a few seasons.

This is how quickly things can change. This is how fast you can go from the best player, on the best team, headed to a championship, to a weak-willed self-entitled player that lacks the killer drive.

The truth, of course, lies in the middle. But that doesn’t lower the expectations on him for his career, for his season, for tonight.

If anyone can rise up in this situation, well, it’s probably Kobe Bryant. But it’s also Dwyane Wade. And Paul Pierce. And Steve Nash. And LeBron James. He can do this.The Celtics are gameplanning for him, but it does not mean they can stop him. When he chose to in Game 5, he drove, he collected fouls. Were he to execute as he is capable of, he could simply foul out the entire Celtics’ frontcourt. But he has to accept the hit, and he has to commit to the drive.

Maybe the jumpshot will return. Maybe the two days of rest will be enough for the elbow. Maybe the constant hammering by the media will motivate him to be what he needs to be. Or maybe the shots will just drop.  But this is not a situation where James can rely on the favorable fortune that has been bestowed on him throughout the last 15 years of his life. Tonight, he cannot be a passive recipient of fate.

Tonight, he has to be the whirlwind instrument of it.

*Does anyone remember how brilliant he was in the regular season? I recognize the importance of the playoffs, but those games did count, and without them, you don’t make the postseason.

  1. edd - May 13, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    zZZZ.zzzzz ZZZZZZZZZzzz zzzZZZZ

  2. RJV - May 13, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    GO GO BOSTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. you'remissingthepoint - May 13, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    @RJV … my apologies for leaving Wade off of my list. I freaking love that guy. Definitely one of my favorite players. I was actually in a hotel in Miami right next to the arena the year they won the championship. Left for the airport just before everything got blocked off for the parade.

  4. RJV - May 13, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    He is the total package – even if I were not a Heat fan – he is humble, a leader and takes the blame when blame is needed! Miami rocked for the 2006 finals and it showed what a person with heart, willingness and leadership can do….out of all the “2003 Draft Superstars”….D-Wade was the one that got the RING! And I dont want anyone saying that Shaq was the cornerstone of that win because he spent his time on the bench in foul trouble….it was the fire of ZO and heart of Wade and everyone else that won the championship… Riley said 15 STRONG…..the Cavs dont know the meaning of the word TEAM!
    GO CELTICS!!!!!!!

  5. WokeUpLaughing - May 13, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    You must be on drugs girlman. LaBrick CANNOT be mentioned in the same sentence as “Bird, Magic, MJ and Kobe”. These men are legends in their own time. Queen James hasn’t won a ring, no hall of fame, just a lot of hype. Not to mention the FACT that he won’t get one this year either.

  6. pbrizzy - May 13, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    LeBron has great skill, but I think he is lacking the motivation to be a great leader for his team by stepping up when he is needed. If you watch his demeanor during timeouts and huddles, he isn’t getting into the face of his teammates to pick them up. He is GREAT, but he is still not on the level of the champs, ie. Kobe, Wade, Jordan, Magic etc.
    He was signed to be the ONE to bring W’s and a championship to Cleveland. He has yet to bring the latter. His best chance was a couple years ago when they played San Antonio. He did account for a vast majority of the Cavaliers’ performance in the playoffs, however, he struggled throughout the Finals against the Spurs’ superb defense.
    On a side note, have you even noticed that Nike hasn’t been showing the MVP Puppet commercials this year during the playoffs? Could they have known that he wouldn’t be making any runs to the Finals? Or are they saving his puppet for the next team he plays on?

  7. Will - May 13, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    Why do people keep talking about his team….for god sakes, the Cavs had the best record in the league the past two seasons…IT AINT THE TEAM PEOPLE…it’s the leader, the so-called King…What kills me is how those commentators ripped Danny Granger for making the All Star team last year, but want to annoint someone who has not won a ring the best player in the league. Winning counts…If I was Dwayne Wade I would be pissed. Look at the stats from last year, Dwayne Wade average more pts, assists, steals, and maybe even blks but yet he didn’t get half the HYPE lebron has gotten. Its a damn shame for someone as good as James to be a creature of Hype but the numbers speak for themselves. And that number is 0. GOD BLESS THE QUEEN.

  8. strut - May 13, 2010 at 4:48 PM

    talk about piling on. this article is speghetti weak and the author is cheap steak tough. olajuwon dominating robinson, no i don’t remember that. nash is a ferocious competitor but he has yet to bring his team ‘over the hump’. lebron is a great player who has been hyped beyond belief so we trash him we does not meet those expectations. so when he does, what we will say…took you long enough? y’all sheep live a vicarious existence.

  9. CHRIS - May 13, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    Yo maggiemay I’m from Cleveland ohio and we love LEBRON and OUR CAVS LEBRON WON’T BE HATED IN CLEVELAND SO U R WRONG GOOOOOOOOOOO CAVS AND KING LEBRON JAMES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHOOP THE CELTICS GO GUYS:) :) :) :):):) u must no be a cavs fan

  10. MSNBC - May 13, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    We are working on spell check for the ‘leave a comment’ section…
    SEE thrown…throne…

  11. destiny36 - May 13, 2010 at 4:55 PM

    This is by far the best comment I’ve read on this subject!

  12. Notso - May 13, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    Hey prophet, You are the idiot, as proven by your command of the English language. Try getting a spell checker and grammar checker! Oh, by the way, all those names you dropped have one thing LaQuit will never have; Titles Baby.

  13. Realistic - May 13, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    This whole argument is a bunch of nonsense. Everyone said Pau Gasol was soft, couldn’t win in the playoffs, etc., etc., until he played with Kobe and now he’s elite, a star,… The only player in NBA history who won a championship practically on his own is Wilt Chamberlain in 1967 with Philadelphia. Lebron would be the second if he can pull it off this year, though it looks unlikely. It is just plain hard to win a championship without at least two elite players. No one has done it in the past 43 years (even Detroit had Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace alongside Rip Hamilton), so give Lebron his props, but don’t expect him to win until he gets paired with someone really good–and Shaq (though I never liked his “I’m bigger than you so I am going to run over you and not get called for a foul” game) is way past his prime, so he doesn’t count.

  14. Lou - May 13, 2010 at 5:49 PM

    No one in the history of basketball ever beat the other team 1 on 5. Time for the “Cavs” to show up and win, including their leader.

  15. DiehardSkins - May 13, 2010 at 6:11 PM

    None of this matters. The Orlando Magic are shooting the lights out and playing the best basketball of ANYONE in the playoffs this year. Lakers vs. Magic and if LA isn’t careful it maybe O-town walking away with the ring in this rematch.

  16. CAVS FOR LIFE 26 - May 13, 2010 at 6:58 PM


  17. CAVS FOR LIFE 26 - May 13, 2010 at 7:02 PM


  18. CAVS FOR LIFE 26 - May 13, 2010 at 7:24 PM

    Just because the cavs arent winning the series everybody is talking about lebrons legacy! when his career is over he will be known as the best player to ever play the game~! He may not win a chmpionship this year but hes got 12 more good yrs in him and will win multiple championships in the future! All yall d-ck riders get off the celtics nuts, ur prolly not even true celtics fans, yall hust like to hate on what other ppl do

  19. "F" - May 13, 2010 at 7:50 PM

    well. i’m not saying Kobe ‘s not good, but Lebron has more pts,assists and rebounds than Kobe got in any season.

  20. DB - May 14, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    the difference between Lebron and Kobe – # of tattoos – just that Lebron paid more to the ‘basket ball gods’ in the form of tattoos – both play the game first for MVP status then for # of rings

  21. xxxltony - May 16, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    First of all Lebron need to respect the game all of that dancing and acting a fool during the season only being concerned about himself and what he do on the court. At no point do i see this man acting like an adult or a professional. Labron you or on the biggest stage and everyone is watching. So Labron conduct yourself as an adult and quit all that dam tap dancing. And remember when the free agency arrives get with a teams that will put rings on your finger and a coach that is a strong individual. Lebron you are a legend go down in history as one.

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