Oh, good grief, LeBron James.
Everyone is familiar with the cliched retired-player boast about how many points or home runs or goals he would put up if only the gods hadn’t been so cruel as to put them on this earth in an earlier generation. Michael Jordan could average 50 points in today’s NBA, or whatever.
The beauty of these declarations is that they are inherently indisputable because they cannot be proved or disproved. There’s no way to go back in time, erase Jordan from existence, make him be reborn in, say, 1990 and watch him go to town for 82 games. If Jordan had been born later, maybe he could have averaged 50 points a game. And if your cat was taller and had opposable thumbs, it could get canned peas down from the top shelf for you. But it’s not.
Of course, even if anyone could pull off that time-bending Back to the Future stuff, it’s impossible to set up the exact circumstances that made Jordan who he was as a player. Maybe instead of the seminal moment when his older brother Larry Jordan beat him in one-on-one for like the 100th time, Jordan actually hits a lucky shot this time around and loses his original reason for motivation. Maybe Pop Herring doesn’t send Jordan to junior varsity as a sophomore instead of Leroy Smith and Jordan, as a 10th-grader on varsity, gets lazy and complacent.
The list goes on and on. Under different circumstances, perhaps Jordan becomes Todd Day. Maybe he becomes even better and averages 80 points, which would still disprove the earlier theory that Jordan would average 50, because in this alternate timeline, our version of Jordan no longer exists. Maybe Jordan decides not to play basketball at all and focuses on baseball. Maybe your cat hates you and tells you to get your own damn peas.
So what does this all have to do with James? Well, James got into the crotchety old man act prematurely on Friday, scoffing that he could score 60 or 70 points in a game if he took 37 shots, as Raptors forward Rudy Gay did against the Rockets on Monday. James’ boast has all the trappings of an ex-star putting down the current generation while humble-bragging up his own reputation at the same time. It was textbook.
The only problem, in case you haven’t noticed, is that James still plays.
“You give me 37 shots in a game, I’ll have 60, 70,” James told reporters after Miami’s 110-104 win over the Mavericks. “I had 40 [Friday] on 18 shots. If I get 37 shots in a game, I’m going to put up 60. Easy.”
James scoring 60 points? Easy? Maybe even 70? Neat. Wilt Chamberlain once made a boast like this, telling critics he was more than an uncoordinated behemoth and that he could lead the NBA in assists if he wanted to. So he did. He came ridiculously close in 1966-67, then broke through by dishing out a league-high 702 assists the following year.
Examples abound of Larry Bird making and backing up similar talk, from telling Xavier McDaniel the exact spot from which he would hit a game-winner to asking a locker room full of competitors at the 1986 NBA 3-Point Shootout who was going to finish second. Jordan probably made all sorts of promises behind closed doors that cannot be reprinted in a family setting. Bill Russell once told his disbelieving father that he would win MVP of the All-Star game just to prove how good he was.
James’ task therefore is pretty simple. All he has to do is just what he says. Take 37 shots and score 70 points. As he mentions, it should be easy if he only tried.
What’s that? He already has tried, sort of? And it didn’t work out? How about that. Easy things are harder than they used to be, apparently.
James did attempt 36 shots in a game in 2005, when he was with the Cavaliers. He scored 56 points — which, as you probably are aware, is not 70. Maybe James was planning on his last shot being one of those infamous 14-point baskets, or maybe Dan Cortese was going to set him up for the Rock ‘N’ Jock 25-pointer.
Listen, we all know James is the best player on the planet and that he is a better player than Gay by far. We have eyes. When it comes to deciding whether James is an all-time great and Gay is just another run-of-the-mill scorer, don’t worry, LeBron. We’ve got this.
But if James is going to go chirping about scoring 70 points in a game, people will want to see that. Kobe Bryant took 46 shots in his 81-point game, and he was actually quite efficient. Chamberlain needed 63 shots to get 100 points, and when he averaged 50.4 points in 1962, he put up slightly fewer than 40 shots per game. Scoring 70 is tough; doing it on 37 shots is even tougher.
Ultimately, we appreciate James throwing down the gauntlet to himself. Nobody was challenging him to reach an arbitrary scoring mark with hard-to-attain stipulations before. Now, thanks to James himself, they can. Getting 40 on 18 shots? Or even 50 on 30? Yeah, nice try. Wake us up when you do something really impressive, James, like scoring 70 on 37. Now there’s a milestone.
The bar has been set. It’s a completely meaningless bar set at an entirely random location, but it’s there nonetheless. If James is already making announcements like this as an active player, we can’t wait to see what sort of statements he makes in retirement. Something tells us those boasts will make walking up hill both ways in three feet of snow sound like a walk in the park — or like scoring 70 points on 37 shots.