CLEVELAND -- One of these days LeBron James is going to get good and angry. Can I be there when it happens? Please? That'll be a day that goes down in NBA history, because history remembers when a guy does something silly like score 75 points.
One of these days, LeBron James will do something silly like that.
That day wasn't Saturday, sadly. I was at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday, but the Detroit Pistons did nothing to make James angry. So he scored 36 points. Had eight rebounds. Seven assists. He made it look easy, because for LeBron James, it is easy. He made a running 40-footer at the half, just flicked his wrist and the ball went 40 feet, and afterward somebody in the media asked him for his shooting range.
"My range? It's pretty much unlimited," he said.
Which is true. And which brings me to my point: James scored 36 against the Pistons, and he made it look easy, because he's the NBA's most unselfish superstar since Wilt Chamberlain. Maybe there's an argument for Oscar Robertson as well, but you can make that one. Not me. For me, the only NBA superstar as unselfish as LeBron was Wilt.
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Let's define a term, shall we? By unselfish superstar, I don't mean "gets lots of assists." Magic Johnson was the best at that, and Bob Cousy and John Stockton weren't bad. They were unselfish, clearly, and they were superstars. But they weren't the same kind of unselfish, score-at-will superstar as LeBron or Wilt. Chamberlain once averaged 50 points per game in a season, was at 44.8 in another season and reached the upper 30s four other times. He wasn't just a superstar. He was an offensive force of nature.
And still he passed the ball. A lot. Chamberlain didn't famously lead the NBA in assists until he was 31, when his scoring had dropped to 24.3 ppg and his assists were up to 8.6, but he was in the league's top 10 in assists three other times, including seasons in which he averaged 36.9 ppg and 33.5 ppg. The guy could score whenever he wanted to. Every time down the floor, he was his team's best scoring option. And still he passed the ball.
Just like James.
James hasn't averaged 50 ppg in a season, or close to it. His career high was 31.4 ppg in 2006, three points better than his 28.4 of this season. He averages more than seven assists per game, and has had seven triple-doubles this season. He does it all, and at a high level, but he could score more. A lot more. Wilt Chamberlain more? No, probably not. Although maybe ...
Look, James does things on the court we've never seen. Not never as in, "since Michael Jordan." No. I mean never.
LeBron is a force of nature unlike any pro since Chamberlain. It's not about getting shots, or even finishing shots. Jordan and Larry Bird could do those things. Jordan would back a player down and shoot a fadeaway jumper, or Bird would step back and chuck a 20-footer. When their shots were falling, which was a lot of the time, they were unstoppable. And unlike fellow scoring savants Kobe Bryan and Allen Iverson, they were unselfish too.
But it's not about getting shots. It's about getting easy shots. Not since Chamberlain, who was bigger and quicker than everyone he faced, has someone been able to get shots as easily and as consistently as James. He's quick like Chris Paul, explosive like Vince Carter and burly like Carlos Boozer. Basically, it comes down to this: Once James decides to go to the rim, you can't stop him.
This is what he did to Detroit whenever he wanted Saturday: He beat his initial defender, usually Tayshaun Prince, who is annually voted among the league's top 10 defenders by NBA coaches. With a head of steam and Prince behind him, James would head for the lane. If no one stopped him, he went to the rim. If Rasheed Wallace or Antonio McDyess got in the way, James would elevate over them, float past them, and then hang in the air and score. He did that once, taking off from about 10 feet out, and was in the air so long that he finished with a finger roll. I didn't trust what I'd seen live, so I studied the instant replay, and I'll be damned: That's exactly what he had done.
That was one time, but he could do it every time. Seriously. Nobody can stop him from penetrating, and once he has a head of steam, nobody can stop him from reaching the rim without fouling him. Maybe if James were better at free throws -- he's a career 73.8-percent shooter from the line -- he would attack every time. Let me tell you this: If he shot 90 percent from the line, and I was coaching the Cavaliers, that would be the only play we would run all game.
LeBron, attack. You other four guys? Um ... act natural.
Other great scorers are playing now, too, like Kobe and Dwyane Wade, but from a physical standpoint James is decades ahead of the game. In the early 1960s Chamberlain was decades ahead of the game, too. Big men trickled in over time, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Artis Gilmore, but it took nearly 30 years for genetics to give us an assembly line of athletic monsters like David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett. Maybe by 2050 the NBA will have multiple players who are as big-strong-fast-explosive as James, but today there is only one.
And there has only been one, ever. Michael Jordan wasn't this big, and he wasn't this fast. If you haven't seen LeBron in person, find a way. TV highlights aren't enough. You need to see all 94 feet of the court, and see how large and fast everyone else is -- and in the NBA, most of these guys are large and fast -- and then see how much bigger and faster James is. If he has a forebear, it wasn't Jordan or Elgin Baylor or Billy Cunningham. It was a velociraptor.
Raptors weren't selfish, either. They just did what nature intended. But what if LeBron James did what nature intended him to do? What if he decided he wanted to score 50 or 60 points in a game?
God help the rest of the league ... what if he liked the taste?