Thursday, August 25, 2011

0 comments A Look Back: Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals

There was a time when LeBron James was supposed to revitalize Cleveland and bridge the gap between Michael Jordan and the present. It was an exciting time. Alright fine, I was giddy. We all claim to want parody in the NBA, but it’s nice to hate, revere and adore. Of course I want my Knicks to win, but I want to see records broken, epic upsets and the like. I want stories to tell my grandchildren, not endless drivel about monotony. It’s these wildly outlandish emotions and memories that make basketball true and relevant. Sure, the game has no pragmatic value to un-basketball-enlightened folk, aside from providing an excuse to drink beer and rearrange your schedule, but it’s relaxing and stimulating. Satisfying and depressing. It’s a chance lay down the weapons of nine to five warfare and be a part of something bigger, something out of our slimy, selfishly motivated grasp.

That’s why basketball is about more than ball in hoop. It’s about relationships and progression – people and the game. The disappearance and reemergence of the center position, the emotional maturity of 20-something millionaires, the lack of regard or honor with which some of these kids treat the game. It gets us riled up, arguing and caring. It compels us to forge one-way relationships with NBA stars – you like them, you hate them, whatever. Either way, they don’t feel back. Yet it’s still tangible and surreptitiously alters your mood. Constantly. Anything that makes chucking a working remote at an expensive TV seem like a good idea is plenty real, I think.

So back to LeBron. He came on the scene, ready to be a memories guy – a can’t miss star and the quintessential example of an era of athleticism. We watched him dominate his rookie season, explode onto the playoff scene, and eventually into the 2007 Conference Finals against Detroit. Game 5, specifically. Looking back, I tossed and turned, aimlessly combing through my unkempt and limitless basketball imaginings - LeBron, Cleveland, loyalty, dynasties, star power, etc. Ultimately my mind kept reverting to one question: what the hell happened?

Wherever you stand on him now – whether you think he’s some ominous sign of the devil or God’s gift to the earth, we can all reminisce about his past, together. Just think about his journey. He lived up to the enlightened path we bequeathed him. I mean, seriously. Look at the squad that he eventually rolled out with against Detroit in that epic Game 5. Drew Gooden, Big Z, Sasha Pavlovic, Larry Hughes, Anderson Varejao, Donyell Marshall, Daniel Gibson, Damon Jones. Yet somehow he still managed to prevail against the battle-tested Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Chris Webber, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess and Jason Maxiell.

The man was unconscious that night. 48 points, 29 of Cleveland’s last 30. It would be dishonorable to deflower such basketball sovereignty with words, so I won’t. Check out the SportsCenter highlights below instead and draw your own conclusions. I will, however, reflect on a feeling. Even though I’m not a Clevelander, nor a bandwagoner, I presume, I was swept off my feet by The King. I mean, how could you not be. Take away the court vision, the ball-handling, and other basketball skills. Just the athleticism, the dominance, the fun, the maturity, and most of all, the kindness. It had been a long time since I had openly rooted for a superstar. Cleveland’s annual playoff elimination was only a few degrees worse than the mundane but easily anticipated Knicks’ meltdown (for me, that is). When a guy does it the right way, says all the right things, manages to avoid the media’s relentless barrage of goading and prodding, it’s nice. Even more, he avoided the oft-followed superstar path - dig in, ignore media perception, become selfish and, frankly, kind of an a**hole. Eventually LeBron followed that path – it’s the only way we allow greatness. He tried to have it both ways, but couldn’t. We swallowed him up, spat him out and were unhappy with the results.

So when you’re watching the video below, put aside your present day emotions and perceptions. Just go back to the days when we were on the brink of something so beyond extraordinary that we had no problem shouting about our man-crush from the rooftops. It was natural, even obligatory. Why? Because of nights like these. When, in a near must-win game, those vessels they call defenders never stood a goddamn chance.

If you come at The King, you best not miss.