Thursday, June 9, 2011

Vacant LeBron

"Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" - John Lydon / Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, to the crowd after the band's final gig in 1978, when they played one song and left

So in the off day before the pivotal Game Five of the Finals (in that odd-numbered games are always Pivotal), it's time to Flay LeBron James, who has only scored nine points in the first four fourth quarters of the Finals, is clearly not the Heat's MVP for this Series, and is showing all of the signs of being Not Michael Jordan.

Now, of course, had the Heat simply been a few points better in the fourth quarter in Game Four, James would be lauded for his unselfishness, or at least, would be tolerated for that and blessed for his defense. If you want to be equally charitable while still pointing out that James Is Not Jordan, you could also note that every possession in crunch time, he's getting double-teamed, and he's also logging huge minutes.

The older I get, the more I try to ignore everything that athletes do outside of the arena... but the Heat make it so damned hard. And so does James. Now, look at what the man did at the end of the first quarter. It's everything that's wrong in the Association right now.

But there's also this about LeBron.. he might work harder than every other superstar in the Association, especially on defense. The chasedown block that's all the rage in the league now? More or less a James invention. He also locked down Derrick Rose to close out the Bulls, erased the Celtics with steals leading to dunks, and basically answered the enmity this spring with goofy acceptance and near MVP play.

And now, suddenly. not. Why the hell not?

Psychoanalyzing athletes is never a great idea, despite the fact that we constantly do it. I tend to give more credence to this idea: since James can do anything on a court, he frequently does not do enough. Players that are truly like him in NBA history pretty much begins and ends with Magic Johnson, and Johnson always had the clear mandate of Being A Point Guard, even if he really wasn't one, at least not physically. What James really is, at this point, is the world's most overqualified energy player, who doesn't have the clear confidence and total focus of a go-to move; that's Dwyane Wade. He's like Meryl Streep in an improv comedy, a still-ungimmicked skill guy in wrestling, Prince or Beck at the start of their careers, when everything seemed limitless and potential-laden, or Babe Ruth in a future age, not sure whether to concentrate on pitching or hitting.

He's also way too far into his career to not know who he is, and what he does when the money is on the table. It's what makes him fascinating to watch even if you aren't rooting for him. James is the superstar with every gift, who works harder than just about everyone, who still manages to be unsatisfying on some level to watch, because we have no idea what he's supposed to do. Only hurry the hell up already and do it.

Blame it on coaching, or his ego, or the fact that he's been so far beyond every league and teammate up until this year. Call him Mozart without a click track, with flaws (turnover prone, weak at the line, character issues as shown by that flop and the constant ref puling) not befitting an elite talent.

Or call him a man with not enough sense of The Moment, since he's known for way too long that all of this is just about selling more jerseys and shoes, and that The Brand is going to be with us for another decade or more, so don't get too hung up in things like another year without a ring. That seems like a reach given how hard he plays, but hey, long-distance psychoanalysis is fun.

I don't have any answers, and neither do the twerps with pre-written storylines that are paid to cover this. But my guess is that now that his back is truly against it, and with his running mates finding clear purchase as his team slowly establishes that it's the better unit even if it doesn't have the better closing decorum, he throws down numbers tonight.

Then fails to do so in a closeout opportunity in Game Six, then gets it done in the home court womb in Game Seven.

And if he doesn't?

Well, he's still selling shoes, and there will always be people willing to point the finger at his role players for not being good enough. Compared to him, they never will be. But flags fly forever, even more than commercials.

Or, at least, they used to, before the commercials went up on the Internet and could be seen forever. You know, back when we only really cared about the games, or at least pretended to...

"Good night" - Lydon, again, same gig, final words

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