No individual personifies the ridiculous tendency to overreact to one game in the NBA playoffs like James. It started from the very moment he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh held their MTV Movie Awards-worthy celebration, so James himself is not without blame for the overboard nature of every reaction since. Once you break out the neon lights, the smoke machines and the Pharoahe Monch music, it's all uphill from there.
Take a step back, though, and as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likes to say, "quiet all the noise." After the Celtics won Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, anybody noting that the series was not yet finished invited ridicule upon themselves. The Heat were done. James was a loser. The experiment in Miami was over. End of story.
Two days later, James is the "Silencer," according to the headline on ESPN.com's NBA homepage. He is once again "The King." There will be a Game 7, but that is irrelevant now. The NBA Finals will be an historic matchup between James and Kevin Durant, the two most gifted small forwards of their generation.
Is it possible, for just a moment, to not determine things before they occur? Is it so crazy to wait to crown a conference champion until after Saturday, when one set of players will be wearing ugly yet oh-so-cherished hats and T-shirts while the other sulks in the locker room?
"That's basketball, man," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Thursday, responding to questions about whether his team lacked its killer instinct in Boston's 98-79 loss. "I don't think our guys were thinking about the magnitude of the game, honestly. I don't think one guy showed up [for Game 6] and said, 'You know what? I'm not going to play well.'"
This stuff is why many sane basketball fans were rooting for Kevin Garnett in 2008, Dirk Nowitzki in 2011 and either James and Durant this season to win that championship and eliminate all the nonsensical claims that these bright stars do not have the "clutch gene" because they do not have championship rings. As they say, NBA players are defined by championships, fairly or not. Only it is not fair, not when that definition relies on one image — often the last image — that comes far short of explaining what that player is or was all about.
Once Garnett finally grasped the gilded wastebasket that goes to the NBA champs, the absurd shouts about his softness suddenly ceased. The world seems to have forgotten that Garnett was one of fandom's favorite whipping boys a decade ago, open to questions of whether the future Hall of Famer had the inner fortitude to win a title. In retrospect, of course, that is laughable. Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost, but the amateur psychoanalysis was good prep work for the folks who would go all Freudian on James a few years later.
Now James has won a game, and he is a hero. Should the Heat lose Saturday, it will be back to the same old story. If they win, James gets to remain a hero for a little while longer before Game 1 of the NBA Finals comes along Tuesday, and the schizophrenia can begin anew.
Meanwhile, we could always go the insane route and just wait to see who wins.
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