The crowd begins forming about 30 minutes before games. With camera phones at the ready, fans position themselves for the moment LeBron James takes flight.
There’s something unnatural about a 6-8, 270-pound man skyrocketing into the air and acrobatically throwing down dunks with brutish grace. It’s like a comic-book superhero come to life. James pushes the boundaries of the natural world, physics and biology to where reality meets imagination.
At this intersection, the show begins.
James’ pregame dunking exhibitions at AmericanAirlines Arena have officially become must-see Miami events.
“I like it,” James said. “As a team, it’s kind of like our new thing.”
Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen, Dwyane Wade, Joel Anthony and even Ray Allen have joined James in the dunking exhibitions. If team chemistry-building is the ultimate goal of the exercise, then it’s working. The Heat has won 12 consecutive games, two shy of the franchise record, and its 141 points against the Kings on Tuesday tied a franchise high set in 1991.
On Sunday, amateur videos of James’ between-the-legs, spinning, off-the-backboard, one-handed, pregame dunk over Rashard Lewis went viral on Twitter. For about 24 hours, the most talked-about dunk in the NBA was something that didn’t even happen in a game.
“Rashard made it look better than what it really was,” James said. “Rashard jumped and I was able to catch it over top of him, which was really cool, so it looked good and a lot of my fans were excited about seeing it.”
ESPN’s SportsCenter picked up the highlight and, suddenly, what had been an intimate show for about three weeks turned into a national story.
News of James’ jaw-dropping dunk over Lewis elevated interest in James’ pregame displays. During warm-ups against the Kings on Tuesday, the lower bowl underneath the Heat’s basket was nearly full with fans hoping to see James again stretch the laws of nature like a rubber band.
James didn’t disappoint.
After a warm-up dunk off the backboard that could have won any dunk contest, James positioned himself near the left wing, just outside the three-point arc, and surveyed the lane. He tossed the ball high into the air, timed his flight plan with a measured approach and then … liftoff. James caught the ball just as his foot left the court and then maneuvered it between his legs — left hand to right. From there, James attacked the rim with an over-handed dunk that set off booming applause throughout the arena.
“We got a little epidemic started right now,” James said of the growing hype surrounding the Heat’s pregame dunks. “It’s almost like the Harlem Shake.”
The pregame dunk routine Tuesday, followed by an entertaining, double-overtime victory against the Kings, capped off the best month of James’ career. He averaged 29.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game in February. He shot 64.1 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from three-point range over 13 games.
James had a season-high 40 points against the Kings while tallying 16 assists, a career high. According to The Associated Press, James is the first player since April 1994 (Kevin Johnson) to have 40 points and 16 assists in a game.
With two months remaining in the regular season, James is all but a lock to earn the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award. He has been named Eastern Conference Player of the Month every month this season.
James is a shoo-in for the February player-of-the-month award with his closest competition mostly likely being Wade. Wade averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game in February. He had a season-high 39 points in 46 minutes against the Kings.
In his past three games, Wade has averaged 32 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals. He also has six blocks in his past four games.
“[Wade] is getting stronger and more explosive every game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “So now that I can play him 45 minutes, maybe we’ll do that.”
No problem, just as long as he has enough energy every night to join James in the pregame dunk show.