You need to watch LeBron James play basketball tonight.
What can I say that would be remotely original? What words in the lexicon of greatness can be heaped upon the guy that have not already been heaped a thousand times over? I’m not sure that there is anything left to say that hasn’t been written already by scores of writers. Worse, most of it was written long before he did anything remotely worthy of such praise, which makes all those superlatives that he now actually deserves seem somehow tainted.
Maybe, then, all I really need to say is simply this: You need to watch LeBron James play basketball tonight.
If you don’t follow basketball, all you really need to know is this: Last summer in the off season, the Cleveland Cavaliers loaded up their team with major talent in the hopes of winning a championship. In addition to Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao, respectively a superstar and a strong veteran already on the team, they signed LeBron James and traded to get another fully developed superstar, Kevin Love. Then they surrounded this quartet with a couple of handy and serviceable role players, and — frankly — a bunch of warm bodies. Over the course of the year, however, Irving, Varejao, and Love — three of the teams five starters — have fallen to injury. The four people who now start with LeBron James aren’t just people who wouldn’t have started for any other NBA playoff team — it’s not entirely certain they all would have made any playoff teams’ rosters at all.
By all rights, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season should be done by now. And yet here they are, playing in the Finals against the team with the best record and the league’s current MVP. And they’re not just playing in the finals, they’re actually competing in it. And not just competing, but actually winning. They lead 2-1 in the seven game series, and the reason they are comes down to one man: LeBron James.
Basketball is a five man game, so it would be a mistake to say James is doing it single handedly — but it’s about as close to ‘single handedly’ as I’ve seen in a Finals series. And don’t get me wrong, everyone playing with James is working their asses off. But those players playing their asses off should still equate to being run out of the building by the Golden State Warriors just phoning it in. Every now and then in the series, someone whose name is not LeBron James will run the offense or bring the ball up court for Cleveland, and far more often than not this will lead to them turning the ball over or taking a terrible — terrible — shot. This is because every player at every position on Golden State is a gazillion times better than anyone on the Cavs — except for James, who somehow makes up for all of it.
If you know anything about basketball, you know that at this level of competition that just can’t happen. Kobe could not have done this. Neither could Magic, or Bird, or Timmy, or the Admiril, or the Dream, or the Doctor. I don’t even believe (sacrilege!) Michael could have done this. Because it’s impossible.
And yet, somehow, right here and right now, it isn’t.
Listen: I have been watching basketball all of my life, and I have seen a thing or two. I’ve sat breathless in stadiums, arenas, bars, and living rooms, and I’ve witnessed Jerry West, Michael Carter WIlliams, and everyone in between. I witnessed Bird steal the ball, Magic step in at center, and the Doctor take it baseline. I saw Reggie destroy one franchise’s title hopes for at least a generation in nine seconds, and Big Shot Rob destroy another’s in just one. I watched all of the hushed Toronto faithful silently count to 81. I sat riveted as I waited for the flu to do to a human body what the flu is supposed to do to a human body but somehow didn’t. I’m telling you, I’ve seen a lot.
But I’ve never seen anything like this, ever.
The Cavaliers may not win the series. Indeed, I still think the smart money is that they won’t. Still, watching LeBron James in this series is something you will remember for the rest of your life because stuff like this only happens once in a generation, if ever.
It doesn’t matter if you aren’t that into basketball, or if you are but you don’t really follow either team. It doesn’t even matter if you rightfully think James gets too much media attention already, or if (like me) you just hate the guy. If that’s the case, then a week from now you can totally go right back to hating him.
But for right now, for just tonight, none of that matters.
Just watch the game, and be amazed.