These have been the best NBA playoffs in years, and I'm determined to enjoy the final round as well. Even if he'll be there.
You know who. LeBron. Him. He made it to the NBA Finals, as he was going to do. That's why he went to Miami and dragged gullible Chris Bosh with him. To play with Dwyane Wade, giving the Miami Heat two of the four best all-around players in the NBA. Plus Bosh. A lineup like that is going to get to the NBA Finals, and win it. More than once, if those three stay healthy.
It's not noble or even sporting, but then, this was never about anything like that. This was about the almighty ring, and his pursuit of a whole bunch of them. This was about his place in NBA history. His legacy. And without a championship ring -- or five -- his place was never going to be in the same neighborhood as Michael Jordan's place. Or even Kobe Bryant's place.
So he gamed the system. Oh, sorry. I don't seem to be writing his name a whole lot, but you know who I'm talking about, right? I'm talking about LeBron. Him. The guy who gamed the system, got his buddy to stay in Miami and then got Bosh to tag along, and now he's here, seven games away -- though it won't take that many -- from his first NBA title.
And I'm determined to enjoy it, even as this blasphemy occurs right in front of my eyes.
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Because these NBA playoffs have been incredible. From the first round, when eighth-seeded Memphis beat No. 1 San Antonio in the West, these have been the playoffs where anything seems possible. Memphis beat the Spurs. Dallas swept the Lakers. No-name Atlanta eliminated Dwight Howard and the Magic, then put a six-game scare into Derrick Rose and the Bulls. The NBA? Never said this before, but I'll say it now: I love this game.
Even if he made it to the NBA Finals. You know. Him.
So this is where I get that rotten taste out of my mouth, maybe for good. No promises, because he could tick me off again, but this is where I say what I have to say about LeBron, and then move on. Some of you -- LeBron's blindly loyal fans, and not only the ones at the Miami Herald -- are probably irritated that I've held onto this anger as long as I have, but give me a break. It hasn't even been one full season since he gamed the system and made love to himself all in the same night by announcing The Decision on live TV.
And anyway, people like me -- and there were millions of people like me -- weren't turned off by James' decision because of what it would mean in October and November. We were turned off because we knew what it would mean in May and June. We knew it meant the Heat would be here, in the Finals, because there was no way around it. They could have an inexperienced coach. They could have a washed-up point guard. They could have key players miss months at a time with injury. And they did have all that. They had Erik Spoelstra coaching Mike Bibby and missing Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. And still, the Heat are here.
Because he's that good.
Especially in conjunction with Dwyane Wade and their impressionable buddy, Bosh. The three of them together, they're that good. Just as we always feared. It wasn't smooth along the way, no. There were five losses in six games from Feb. 24 to March 8, and before that there was that bizarre 9-8 start to the season that had lots of people -- sure, including me -- writing off this team and dancing on its grave.
At the time, people like me -- and there were millions of people like me -- had no idea why it was happening, but we wanted so badly to believe The Decision wasn't going to work. We wanted to believe he wouldn't be rewarded for circumventing the system, finding a partner in crime in Wade and bringing along the pliable Bosh. That maybe the Heat weren't as devastatingly, inappropriately, unfairly unstoppable as we knew they'd be when this thing went down in July.
We were wrong because that 9-8 start had us thinking with our hearts, not our heads. The Heat weren't susceptible to teams with quality big men or deep rosters or great coaches or whatever fairy tale we were trying to believe in November. The Heat, quickly snapped together like Mr. Potato Head, were simply feeling their way to greatness. It takes time, even for players as good as him, but they're here. They found greatness.
And it's clear how it happened. Miller got healthy and Haslem got healthy, but Miami's key to greatness was more LeBron, less everyone else. When he first arrived, he tried to share the marquee with Wade. In those first 17 games LeBron was averaging 23.4 points per game, nearly five below his career average. Whether he looked at his team's mediocre record or his unacceptable scoring line or both, who knows. But he obviously said screw this and stopped pretending this was Dwyane Wade's team. It wasn't, and honestly, I don't think Wade minds. He's a Batman talent but a Robin teammate, doing his best work in the wake of Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James.
Since that 9-8 start, LeBron has averaged 27.6 ppg. His assists are down (from 7.9 in the first 17 games to 6.8 the rest of the regular season, now 5.5 in the playoffs), but he's shooting more, scoring more, winning more. LeBron is not selfish, at least not during a basketball game, but he can't be one of the guys -- or he's pretending to be something he's not.
Derrick Rose deserved the MVP for leading the Bulls to the best record in the league -- but LeBron is the best player in the world. Scottie Pippen said last week that he might be the best player the world has ever seen, and there's an argument that Michael Jordan's running mate was correct. But that's an argument for another day, after LeBron's career is finished and people can count his points, his assists, his rebounds and, of course, his rings.
The first one's coming soon.
I'm determined to enjoy watching it, even if I am watching the coronation of ... you know. Him.