LeBron James’ greatness is undergoing a fascinating transformation here in his 15th NBA season.
Previously he was defined/defiled by “The Decision” – the unfortunate circus that preceded his move to Miami, and the contrivance of joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Now, he is in the midst of “The Deficiency” – the winning with a supporting cast in Cleveland woefully deficient in, well, just about everything considered essential to winning.
Before, he was the guy who cherry-picked a couple championships. Now he is being recast as the guy who has dragged a limp collection of Cavaliers to a conference final. From a show horse to a plow horse, in the blink of an eye.
This LeBron is far more appealing than that LeBron. Even if he still does want to insist that every slight touch is a foul and that Copernicus was wrong – for he, not the sun, is the center of this universe. It’s still easier to accept and appreciate the power of his game when it is so singularly on display. Just as Yo-Yo Ma would sound even more brilliant if playing with a jug band, James appears that much more ascendant with these particular Cavs.
When LeBron and the Pips begin their Eastern Conference final vs. Boston Sunday, he will be playing in his 229th career postseason game. That’s 50 more than Michael Jordan played in his career. And for all the mileage – close to an additional three seasons’ worth of grinding, postseason wear – James is only appearing stouter at this stage of his career.
Beyond the physical superiority James continues to bring to the floor, there is a determination and drive that we are now forced to acknowledge, considering the company he is now keeping. If he can will this Cleveland team to the NBA Finals – which would make it eight straight for James – then that would be just one more piece of supporting evidence for his all-time supremacy.
The inevitable comparisons between James and Jordan often favored the latter on the matter of competitive, killer instinct. But each time he takes over the moment when the whole building knows that’s the only option, James closes that gap.
Not even Jordan had to give so much of himself to any of his six championship Chicago teams as James is now lending Cleveland.
Thus far through this postseason, James has accounted for 33 percent of the Cavs points, which is roughly equivalent to Jordan’s contribution during his title runs (his highest was 34.8 percent in his final appearance in 1998). It is in the other two big statistics that James really has established himself as Mr. Everything to these Cavs.
James is contributing 24 percent of Cleveland’s postseason rebounds (Jordan never topped 18 percent) and an amazing 46 percent of the assists (Jordan’s best was 32 percent). To date, there has been no load too heavy for him to carry.
Boston will present multiple more challenges to James and the Cavs than did top-seed Toronto – like better coaching and a larger collection of functioning spines. But aren’t we at the stage now where we just assume James will do whatever is required to get himself to the next round?
After all, he is the one current player who has risen to the level of a philosophical query: If they hold a NBA Finals series and LeBron James is not there, did it really happen?