Facing another summer’s worth of questions about his failure in the postseason, James delivered a preemptive, in-your-face response to all the talking heads and Twitter haters eager to watch him fall again. James not only delivered while shouldering the Heat’s burdensome, self-stated championship expectations, he attacked the challenge with a level of ferocity and flair unseen since Michael Jordan was establishing his second-to-none legacy.
James missed only seven of 26 field goal attempts despite the Celtics’ best efforts to stop him, or at least slow his thoroughbred-like stride from the opening tip-off. He played all but three minutes — including every one in a 30-point first half.
This wasn’t merely a great game, of which James has had many. It was James at his historic best: He became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964 to produce at least 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game (Chamberlain’s way-back stat line was 50, 15 and six). When only you and the Big Dipper have accomplished a feat in the past 48 years of NBA postseason history, you’ve done something spectacular.
A box score wasn’t needed, however, to measure James’s series-changing impact. Simply glancing at the demoralized Celtics or hearing the thud of four-leaf clovers in Boston’s eerily quiet TD Garden told the story. The synergy of James’s Hall-of-Fame talent and indomitable will lifted the Heat.
And that’s exactly what elite athletes are supposed to do. It’s what the ticket-buying, television-watching public expects.
We wanted Reggie Jackson to hit three home runs in a World Series-clinching victory. We would have felt cheated if Jordan hadn’t made the game-winning shot as the clock wound down in a close-out NBA Finals game. We had edge-of-our-seat excitement whenever Joe Montana entered a huddle late in the fourth quarter and Bears or Lions were blocking his path.
For sports fans, it’s about living vicariously through the best who have ever played. From the I-can’t-believe-I-just-saw-that present to the what-wonderful-memories-we-have past, our lives are enriched by the artistry of the all-time greats.
The anti-James crowd would disagree, but the NBA’s reigning most valuable player — and three-time award winner — is among them. James has earned that standing as much as the “dunce” label he’s trying to shake after past public relations missteps.