|The Atlantic online|
In this week's NBA Finals edition of the Atlantic Sports roundtable, we talk about - what else? - LeBron James? Is he the entire story, or is there more to the series?
Hampton Stevens: ... Therein lies what's so striking and ultimately frustrating about James. No matter how hard he tries to act deadly serious about his sport, we all know he isn't. It's done for the cameras, from a sense of obligation to fans. Deep down, LeBron knows it's just a game. Worse, we know he knows it. Sure, the guy wants to win. The players like Michael Jordan and Bill Russell to whom he's inevitably compared didn't just want to win, though. They had to win. They were desperate for it. They needed victory like a vampire needs new blood.
Can you imagine Michael Jordan having to announce that a game was on his shoulders? Like there was ever any doubt. Can you imagine Bill Russell waiting until Game 4 of the NBA Finals to finally get mad? The guy was mad in preseason.
We want our heroes to suffer for their greatness—to feel agony after defeat, not head for the clubs of South Beach. We want them to care more about the game than we do. James tries. He acts like it, because he knows he's supposed to. But it's nevertheless obvious that he just plain doesn't live and die with every bucket. Even more galling, he's so insanely talented that he can win without having to. That why LeBron will always respected, but never be beloved.
Patrick Hruby: ... Hampton, no mas. I'm begging you. Begging you and the entire sports media-industrial complex. Particularly ESPN. Please stop. Please stop turning individual games, the entire playoff series, and the whole of the National Basketball Association into a never-ending see-saw referendum on LeBron James and his psyche. Does he want it enough? Is he aggressive enough? Is he shooting too much? Too little? He should help his teammates. He should assert himself. Why can't he be more like Michael Jordan? Where is my "Space Jam II?" WAHHHHHHHHH!
Here's the thing: The NBA Finals—and, by extension, professional basketball—is not a summertime superhero movie. It is not a bunch of throwaway supporting characters and scripted plot points revolving around one hero's narrative journey. No matter how well or poorly James plays, no matter passive he looks or angry he sounds, there are always nine other guys on the floor. Plus more on the bench. Plus coaches, scouts, and front-office people. And every single one of those people is the hero of their own story. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that James is not the cosmos, and the Finals are about a lot more than his choice of suit color. There's plenty else to analyze, appreciate, and discuss—and we should keep that in mind, because all of those non-LeBron things will end up deciding the series ...
Jake Simpson: ... Don't sleep on the Spurs. Despite what we see from pundits and the Twitterverse alike, there are two teams in this series. The outcome is not simply in the hands of LeBron, dependent on his ability to flick his On/Off switch to On. Not when San Antonio has the best basketball strategist in the world in its corner.
In fact, Gregg Popovich may well be the key to the final three games of this series. With Wade in peak form, Miami presents a matchup nightmare for any defense, and Pop will have to counter with a defensive adjustment that minimizes the Heat's athletic advantage. Pop also has to coax a Vintage 2003 effort out of Duncan, who has been good but not dominant in this series. With Parker playing on a balky hammy, 15 points and 11 rebounds a game from the big fella (his per-game averages in the Finals so far) is not going to cut it.
But I think San Antonio will find a way to bounce back in Game 5. For one thing, the Heat have been stupefyingly inconsistent for the last three weeks. You know that stat about the Heat not losing consecutive games since January? Well, Miami hasn't won consecutive games since May 22. Every win against both Indiana and San Antonio has been followed by a loss, a one-step-forward-one-step-back pattern that has created the schizophrenic reactions from the media and the public ...
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