Getting the Word, James Has 'Fun' With the Fans

The Washington Post's Michael Lee breaks down the Wizards' 36-point victory over Cleveland in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.Audio: Michael Lee/The Washington PostPhotos: Preston Keres/The Washington PostVideo: Dan Steinberg/The Washington PostEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 25, 2008

A month ago, the last time LeBron James was at Verizon Center, Washington Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson helped force the superstar forward into missing 13 of his 22 shots from the floor and uttered a phrase afterward that was considered blasphemous in most NBA circles -- especially in Cleveland, where James is exalted -- when he called James "overrated."

James, the NBA's leading scorer this season, had been a dominant force in giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series. He imposed his will in the closing minutes of Game 1 with two decisive drives to the basket and demoralized the Wizards with an almost flawless floor game in a 30-point victory in Game 2.

But as James stood at the foul line with 30.5 seconds left in the third period last night, with his team trailing by 28 points, Stevenson's word was recited in unison by more than 20,000 fans dressed in white: "O-VER-RA-ted! O-VER-RA-ted!"

James smiled as the chant rained down. Then James missed the free throw off the back of the rim, giving the chant even more life.

"I've played in more hostile environments than this crowd. I've played in the Eastern Conference finals in Detroit. That's a lot more hostile than the crowd saying overrated," said James, who finished with 22 points as his Cavaliers followed up their franchise-record 30-point victory with the worst playoff loss in franchise history, 108-72. "I smiled when it happened. I had fun with the fans. It's no big deal."

He proved it was no big deal in a matter of seconds -- three to be exact -- when Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson stole the ball and passed to James, who took off from just outside the paint for an emphatic, one-handed slam. That would serve as one the few highlights for James on a night when the Wizards abandoned the physical "Hack-A-Bron" tactics that nearly led to the suspension of center Brendan Haywood, who sent James flying through the air with a hard foul on Monday night.

James wore some padding under his uniform, expecting to be roughed up, but the Wizards gave him space, forcing him into being a jump shooter. Or they trapped him quickly to get the ball out of his hands. James was a willing passer, but his teammates couldn't hit shots. James finished 10 of 19 from the floor, but the rest of the Cavaliers were 19 for 54 (35.1 percent). Cleveland also committed 23 turnovers, after having just 19 in the first two games combined.

"They turned the pressure up on us defensively today and caught us off guard," James said. "We had too many mistakes and we paid for them. They did a good job of shrinking the floor and making me give the ball up at times and making my guys make shots. We have to step in and knock them down. I wasn't as aggressive as I know I can be. I need to get better and be a better player on Sunday."

After Stevenson called him "overrated," James initially made a light-hearted comment about how responding to Stevenson would be like hip-hop mogul Jay-Z responding to rapper Soulja Boy, the one-hit wonder behind the song "Crank Dat."

Soulja Boy, whose real name is DeAndre Way, attended the game at the invitation of Stevenson and sat in the front row near the Wizards bench wearing Stevenson's No. 2 jersey. During a timeout in the fourth quarter, Soulja Boy performed his popular dance and punctuated it by waving his hand in front of his face as Stevenson often does after he hits three-pointers. Inspired, Stevenson (19 points) quickly hit back-to-back three-pointers, with the final one coming in front of James.

After making the shot, Stevenson stomped down the court and made an exaggerated wave across his face. In the locker room after the game, James sat with his feet in a bucket of ice, leaned back, shook his head and said, "Soulja Boy."

"I know for sure, if my son was there, he really enjoyed Soulja Boy at the game," James said. "My son knows every last dance Soulja Boy does and every last song Soulja Boy made. If my son was watching, he enjoyed it."

Asked if this game had given any life to his rivalry with Stevenson, James laughed.

"There is no DeShawn-LeBron rivalry," he said, laughing again. "There is no DeShawn-LeBron rivalry."

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