I dont know if LeBron James matured or conquered his fear or eureka-epiphany figured something out in the last game one of the best weve ever seen, any sport, any time. Maybe he just made a lot of his jump shots. But I do know this: That is how you change the contaminated and unrelenting narrative surrounding you.
The mocking? The criticism? All the poison? That is how you silence it, in the quietest Boston youve never heard. Thats what respect sounds like, that silence, and you dont ask for it politely or by trying very hard to be liked. You take it, against everyones will if necessary, and you stare dead-eyed and unsmiling straight ahead as those laughing mouths around you close one by one in a mixture of fear and awe, and you keep that look as you leave the silenced arena and someone throws a beer on your head, knowing that there is a little more work on your legacy yet to be done.
Witness was Nikes advertising campaign for him, at once grandiose and religious, so think about what you just Witnessed, sports worshipper. It is something that must be respected, if you care at all about games, even if you hate James for his alleged personality crimes in the cathedral weve made of sports. There is no one in sports covered like him. That awful 4-for-18 game Paul Pierce had Thursday night? Can you imagine what would have fallen out of the sky if James had done that in that game? Can you imagine if James had even the game Dwyane Wade (6 for 17) had? Even Hall of Famers get to fail quietly sometimes, but the bar is set beyond even the stars for only James now, and Thursday night he still somehow leaped over it to dunk on the head of a 6-11 extraterrestrial named Kevin Garnett.
If James had the game Pierce or Wade had Thursday night, maybe he gets his coach fired and his friend gets traded. And, under those circumstances, amid hostility inside and outside the arena, with so many people rooting for him to shrink and fail and wither under the laughter, the alleged choker does that? It was, given the weight of the circumstances, the best game he has ever played. Forty-five points and 15 rebounds, for forever.
No one anywhere in athletics plays under the daily pressure and scrutiny James does. And there was more of it Thursday night, more of it than even his usual, more than any normal human would find bearable, the Heats entire blueprint and experiment pushed to the brink, an offseason of echoing mockery calling if his hands began to tremble. This as Chris Bosh was still hurt and a gimpy Wade might as well have spent the first half playing defense against LeBron, too. Standing in the way: The proud, rugged Celtics featured three Hall of Famers, a three-time All-Star, a champion coach whose specialty is defense and a hostile gladiator crowd demanding a kill. And James does that?
James came to Miami to share the burden it is why he left his image in tatters to join Miami, to get past these very Celtics but there hasnt been anything shared about his burden for two straight years. Wade, bejeweled forever, misses the last shot, he doesnt get blamed. The conversation becomes, Why didnt LeBron take it? James has been accused of mental frailty, of cowardice, daily and nationally for two years. And that either breaks a lesser man or hardens a stronger one.