The Power, and the Glory
Monday, March 10, 2008
NEW YORK -- His feet planted in a bucket of ice, ice packs wrapped around his knees, LeBron James literally was chilling more than 30 minutes after he fulfilled a longtime dream of becoming a Madison Square Garden legend. The locker room had pretty much emptied, and most reporters were gathered in an interview room to ask James about his game against the New York Knicks, when he had 50 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds and 1 handshake with a crazed fan.
It was getting late and James hadn't even showered. When a Cleveland Cavaliers media relations person attempted to get James moving, he shooed her away.
"Tell them my finger's broke," James said.
James had earned the right to sit back and bask on a glorious night in which he got to talk trash to Knicks fan Spike Lee like Reggie Miller, scored 50 points in "the mecca of basketball" like his idol Michael Jordan, and received a standing ovation and "MVP" chants when he exited the game with 23 seconds remaining. To top it off, a 17-year-old named Anthony Erskine, dressed in James's jersey, ran to the Cleveland bench to express his gratitude before he was escorted out of the arena and arrested.
"It's one of the greatest things that has happened to me," James said of the game, after finally meeting with a crowded room of reporters more than an hour after the game concluded.
The question remains how much longer those who cover the league will make James wait before the fifth-year swingman wins his first most valuable player award. The competition for the award this season is considered a two-man race between James and the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, although Boston's Kevin Garnett and New Orleans' Chris Paul have also been in the discussion.
No matter who wins the MVP, Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince said James has established himself as the league's most difficult player to guard.
"It's not even really close," said Prince, a three-time NBA all-defensive team member. "What he can do without the ball, what he can do with the ball, what he can do when he gets the rebound and take it up the court. He gets 16, 18 points a game that's pretty much baskets other people can't get -- and it comes easy to him."
James has spent this entire season answering the remaining criticisms of his game: that he couldn't consistently hit perimeter shots; that he lacked the ability to close out games; and that he couldn't keep the proper focus and effort for an entire season. He leads the league in scoring at 30.9 points per game, with career highs in rebounds (8.0), assists (7.4) and field goal percentage (48.7). He also leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring average and has directed the Cavaliers to a league-best 15 fourth-quarter comebacks.
"I don't think there is a weakness in his game," Cavaliers point guard Delonte West said. "Every time someone says there is a weakness, he clears it up for you and shows you he can do it."
After last week's game against the Knicks, the league might have to come up with some new rules to create challenges for James. If the rim was raised, James might not have been able to take off from just outside the painted area in the first half, appear to reach the apex of his jump, then rise higher after deciding to dunk the ball with both hands.
If the court were bigger, it might diminish the effect of his physics-defying drives. James drove hard to the basket in the third quarter, and Knicks forward David Lee shoved him. Lee stopped James's momentum but couldn't keep him from banking a shot off the glass before his feet touched the ground. And despite moving into James, Lee stumbled backward into the seats along the baseline.