Wizards play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz joined ESPN 980’s The Drive with Steve Czaban and guest host Andy Pollin on Monday to chat about LeBron James’s return to Cleveland and the Wizards’ old (and mostly one-sided) rivalry with the Cavaliers.
Czaban asked if James’s decision to go home altered Buckhantz’s negative perception of the former Heat star.
“There’s the faction of how I feel about him personally, which, as you know, is not great,” Buckhantz began. “I’ve never wavered in thinking that he’s clearly the best player in the league and one of the best of all-time, and I will defend that to the end. He’s the greatest player in the league. … Even in postgame situations, when he does interviews, like throughout the playoffs they had him on after every game, I think he’s great. He really is terrific. He handles himself well.”
Buckhantz went on to explain that his personal dislike of James stems from how he carries himself when the spotlight isn’t on him. While discussing the Wizards-Cavaliers playoff rivalry, Buckhantz said one moment in particular, from Game 6 in 2006, irks him to this day.
“The other night I saw a video of clip on somewhere,” Buckhantz said later in the segment. “It was just a quick clip, but it was LeBron when he mentioned to Gilbert at the free throw line, ‘Miss these free throws, the game is over.’ Man, that has stuck in the back of my head for all of these years. I see it every day; it still galls me.”
It’s as painful a moment as any in Wizards history. With 15 seconds remaining in overtime and Washington leading by one at home, Arenas missed the first free throw before James stepped in the lane to offer his word of warning. Arenas missed the second free throw and Damon Jones hit a game-winning shot at the other end to clinch the series.
“You do whatever you can do, but here’s the problem I have with it,” Buckhantz said. “And I mention this every year, it seems, at the NBA meetings when all of the broadcasters are invited and we meet with the referees … and we go over film, and they give us tests. It’s a really cool process. But, you know, I can’t keep my mouth shut, so I brought up the fact that this happened, and I didn’t think that players should be allowed to do that.
“I mean, what’s to stop a guy from going up to another guy at the line and saying something really vile and vulgar about his mother before a critical free throw? I brought this up and the reaction from [then-chair of the NBA’s Competition Committee] Stu Jackson was, and this is a quote, ‘It’s gamesmanship.’ Really? Gamesmanship? To me it’s disconcertion. Once the player gets to the line, I don’t think anybody should be able to go in the circle to say anything to him.”
“He could’ve said that from his spot in the lane,” Czaban replied.
“He could’ve,” Buckhantz said. “And there is some jawing that goes on there, make no mistake about it. But it’s one thing to go up and basically whisper it in a guy’s ear.”
For the record, Arenas said after the Game 6 loss that he would’ve done the same thing that James did.
“Still,” Arenas said afterward, “I missed ’em. . . . An 80 percent free throw shooter and you miss?”
After the first miss, James walked to the foul line, put his hand on Arenas’s shoulder and said, “If you miss both of those free throws, the game is over.”
“It was something I would have said,” Arenas said with his usual candor.