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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. Omnius - May 13, 2010 at 11:31 AM

    The LeGone James will show up and just play patsy as the Celtics end his season tonight. LeBoring James doesn’t deserve to be an MVP, he’s just Allen Iverson with height in other words he’s just another self serving ball hog. Kobe will prove why he’s the MVP of the NBA!

  2. WokeUpLaughing - May 13, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    Lifelong Celtics Fan thinks LeBrick James will have ANOTHER pathetic performance tonight and will retreat (to NY for free lap dances… ROTFLMFAO) with her tail between her legs.

  3. Burp - May 13, 2010 at 11:49 AM

    Bye bye LeBron……sports in Cleveland = Epic Failure.

  4. Prince forever - May 13, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    Prince James is a sell out and will never be able to sit on the thrown

  5. RUKidding - May 13, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    Are you kidding? To NOT mention Kobe and ball hog in the same sentence is just plain wrong. LeGone, as you have called him, has always been a better team player than Kobe (Give ME the Ball) Bryant.

  6. Craig - May 13, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    Omnius, well said. Maybe Lebonk will go play in Europe for billions and leave the rest of the professionals alone. I’m not so sure about the last sentance though.

  7. Ridiculous - May 13, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    Omnius, how can a ball hog average 6+ assists a game. Kobe averages what, two? Kobe has the best team behind him. In the playoffs, no one has stepped up besides Lebron aside from one game. Omnius, you are one of those peices of sh*t that doesnt even know the facts. It was ONE bad game for the King. And Cleveland will still win the series.

  8. T - May 13, 2010 at 12:12 PM

    Jester James hasn’t won a ring, why do people call him “King” James?
    He’s an amazing player and deserves praise but in order to be a “King” you must have a “RING.”
    So he’s been to the finals, big deal. Going to the NBA finals through the eastern conference that year was easy.
    Jester James needs a Ring to be King James.

  9. Ridiculous - May 13, 2010 at 12:15 PM

    T,
    He has two MVP’s. When talking about individual performance, i’d say MVP’s are what count.

  10. FUNNY - May 13, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    Lebron has been a ball hog in the playoffs going 1 on 5 or standing in the corner not helping his teammates as the so called “MVP” should…. Point forward has never been a position that lasts in basketball… He needs a point guard to handle the ball pressure and run plays for everyone not just Lebron going one on five and only finding people when they double or tripple team him

  11. Bob - May 13, 2010 at 12:27 PM

    @ Ridiculous… The difference between Kobe & Lebron isn’t in APG stats.. Kobe uses his team throughout the game, he lets the guys try to step up, and there are plenty of times when the others don’t. When its time to turn it on and put the game away Kobe is the go to guy, his coach EXPECTS him to be. Klutch Kobe, the Black Mamba, is undeniably THE BEST closer in the game today. Lebron on the other hand from the opening tip is about himself, he tries to be the PG, the Shooting Guard, The Power Forward, The Center, he doesn’t let his other guys play their positions, they just stand around the perimeter and hope he passes the ball and when he occassionally does they shoot and score, therefore he gets assists here & there but it hardly makes him a “team player”. When he’s dropping 40 every night and no one else is out of the 20s it just shows how selfish a player he is!

  12. Lets B Real - May 13, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    Blah, Blah, Blah…both Kobe and LBJ are phenoms in their own right.
    Kobe – 4 (soon to be 5)
    LeBron – 0 (and about to be eliminated, yet again)…
    MVP trophies VS. Rings…yeah, I’ll take those rings, thank you very much.
    Until LBJ has earned his place in history with the bling on his fingers, please let the comparisons stop.

  13. Mike Diggy - May 13, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    Lebron James has a freakish body and “out of this world” basketball skills, but thats it. He is more worried about having the right people in the stands to watch him versus the right people on the court to help him win. He loves attention!! I mean c’mon, who in their right mind shoots a free throw with their off hand in the playoffs broadcasting an injury!?? And then goes to the bench and wonders why his coach isn’t happy with him showing a smug smirk to the cameras. Its a wrap, KG won’t let this series leave the Garden tonight. Lebron may come out hungry like a wild dog but this isn’t last Friday night with the series tied at 1-1, this is game 7 to us and we want this finished tonight!

  14. rumpdog1 - May 13, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    A lot of you guys hyped James up and he didn’t win anything and now look at him he is down in the dumps and you want to push him over board now. The guy is just another player so stop with the king mess.

  15. skidog - May 13, 2010 at 1:10 PM

    The Cleveland Cavaliers has to step up and play team basketball, PERIOD.THE media has put so much projectiion on Lebron, u guys have forgot about the other players that’s on the team, and they are being paid millions of dollars to play this game. Lebron has done his part through out the season and the play off’s. The rest of the team has to compete, and that’s the bottom line, know one man is going to beat this Boston Celtic team. The individual awards doesn’t mean jack at this point,it’s put up or go home. The other player’s on the Cav’s has to compete

  16. skidog - May 13, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    The Cleveland Cavaliers has to step up and play team basketball, PERIOD.THE media has put so much projectiion on Lebron, u guys have forgot about the other players that’s on the team, and they are being paid millions of dollars to play this game. Lebron has done his part through out the season and the play off’s. The rest of the team has to compete, and that’s the bottom line, know one man is going to beat this Boston Celtic team. The individual awards doesn’t mean jack at this point,it’s put up or go home. The other player’s on the Cav’s has to compete

  17. Maggiemay - May 13, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    If the Cavs lose tonight and LeBron does not re-sign with the Cavs he will be hated in Ohio! He will be the new Art Modell

  18. Michelle - May 13, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    The only thing kobe is good at is snitching on his boys when he’s caught in a bad situation. Little sissy. As far as the beautiful and talented Labron James, there’s no question that he’s the best player that has EVER come along in the world of basketball. You can’t expect Labron to win games by himself, he needs help, and he’s not getting much right now. And trust, he will never snitch his boys out when he’s in a pinch either.

  19. Mynameisgtwo - May 13, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    Excellently written. Too bad the winner of this series gets pummeled by the Magic who in turn get pummeled by the Lakers. Another ring for Kobe.

  20. skidog - May 13, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    The Cleveland Cav’s has to play team basketball to beat the Boston Celtics. Peroid! The media has projected so much for Lebron, u haven’t mention the other ball player’s that’s getting paid millions to play the game of basketball. Lebron has done his part all season and in the playoffs. The rest of the team has to compete and that’s the bottom line. Individual awards has nothing to do the with this game at this point, nor does Kobe and any other NBA player, the rest of the CAVALIERS has to play the way they’ve been paid. True ball players know’s what it takes to win, every championship team in the previous yrs has had player’s that has stepped up and competed, even if Lebron plays his but off and the rest of the team doesn’t, u guys are going to blame Lebron which isn’t fair. Put the blame on where the blame is merited & that’s the Cleveland Cavaliers (Team).

  21. Randy - May 13, 2010 at 1:30 PM

    Forget the throne. He won’t be able to sit anywhere after he gets spanked tonight by Boston.

  22. skidog - May 13, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    The Cleveland Cav’s has to play team basketball to beat the Boston Celtics. Peroid! The media has projected so much for Lebron, u haven’t mention the other ball player’s that’s getting paid millions to play the game of basketball. Lebron has done his part all season and in the playoffs. The rest of the team has to compete and that’s the bottom line.

  23. Randy - May 13, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    Forget the throne. He won’t be able to sit anywhere after he gets spanked tonight by Boston.

  24. Bryan - May 13, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    Really nice writing Matt!

  25. toad - May 13, 2010 at 1:47 PM

    Anyone who uses abbreviation ROTFLMFAO is obviously a 13 year old girl and should not be listened to.

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