Ok, I want everyone to realize something. We are truly witnessing (sorry Sully) something beyond special. And, after watching him eviscerate my Hawks, it still kind of stings to admit it, but this is a once in a lifetime occurrence that deserves 1,047 words from me, whether I like it or not.
LeBron Freaking James.
Never mind the triple double last night. Never mind the 17 points in the fourth. Never mind the ridiculous gut-check required to play that well down 3-1 in the conference finals. No, what we're seeing is bigger than a single game. His splits for the postseason? 36.1 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game and 7.3 assists a game. Bill Simmons has what he calls the 42 Club (explained here), where you add up those three figures to determine postseason greatness (plus, the fact that Dirk (41.6, '06) blew his shot at the club with those finals solidifies the accuracy of the scale and captures the injustice done to my favorite 7-foot jump shooter. Great. Now I sound like Mark Stein).
Here's your 42 Club (I really wish I'd have thought of this first; damn you Simmons!) since the merger for reference:
Michael Jordan (6 times): 49.4 ('89); 50.7 ('90); 45.9 ('91); 46.5 ('92); 47.8 ('93); 43.8 ('97)
Shaquille O'Neal (4X): 43.6 ('98); 49.2 ('00); 49.0 ('01); 43.9 ('02)
Larry Bird (4X): 42.0 ('81); 44.4 ('84); 43.4 ('86); 44.2 ('87)
Moses Malone (2X): 43.0 ('81); 43.3 ('83)
Magic Johnson (2X): 43.8 ('86); 42.5 ('91)
Karl Malone (2X): 43.0 ('92); 42.9 ('94)
Hakeem Olajuwon (2X): 44.2 ('94); 47.8 ('95)
Tim Duncan (2X): 42.7 ('01); 45.4 ('03)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1X): 47.1 ('80)
Charles Barkley (1X): 44.5 ('93)
Kobe Bryant (1X): 42.8 ('01)
Allen Iverson (1X): 43.7 ('01)
Kevin Garnett (1X): 44.0 ('04)
LeBron James (1X): 44.7 ('06)
Do some quick math on the numbers above for Mr. James (and he has earned the Mr.) and you can see that not only are we talking about a legendary run, but an entrant into the hallowed air of the 50 Club. Current occupants? Michael Jeffery Jordan, when he officially changed his name to Michael Freaking Jordan in 1990. He threw up a 36.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and 6.8 apg, clocking him in at 50.7...and LeBron is currently pacing at 52.7.
But the big rub here is Michael didn't get his first ring until a year later...but what that postseason flurry did do is something even more important: it firmly established him as a cut above his peers (Barkley, Malone, Robinson, Drexler), and it announced that he was here to replace to old guard (Dumars, Thomas, Bird, Magic). And this is where LeBron stands. Whether or not he wins the ring now or next year is of little importance in the larger scheme of things. Maybe this is the summer where Kobe vaults himself into the top-10 players ever discussion by winning a ring where he wasn't the second banana (and if you don't think he was the sidekick during those first three titles, you're nuts). Maybe this is the summer where I get to be all teary eyed because I get to watch my boy Melo (the should-have-been ROY over LeBron way back when) not only grow up, but establish himself as a champion. Maybe this is the summer where Dwight Howard proves that you don't need silly things like 'post offense besides tip-ins and open dunks' to be a successful big man.
Maybe this is another year where LeBron falls short. Maybe his indomitable will is not enough to overcome Stan Van Gundy/Ron Jeremy. Maybe he runs out of gas here, I mean, he has played over 550 NBA games already. Maybe he's playing on fumes, and maybe these Delonte West and Mo Williams threes stop falling, and he is left out there truly alone. Maybe these Cavs survive the Magic, but are so winded that they can't manage to finish in the Finals.
That's all on the table, and it's all ok.
Because, with his performance so far (52.7!!!), he's pulled a 1990 Jordan on the Association. He has officially announced to the older guard (Duncan, O'Neal, Garnett, MAMBA) that he has arrived to replace them...and put his peers (Howard, Anthony, Paul, Wade) on notice that they are his peers in age only; he has come and will be placing a stranglehold on the NBA for the foreseeable future. Ironically, the player who is to blame for this explosion is the same player who has the most to lose by his rise.
Fellow Most Valuable Puppet Kobe Bryant brought this on himself, and on all of the rest of the Association through his participation in the Redeem team last summer. Not only did he remind LeBron that there was a plateau he had yet to reach (see: last possessions, Gold Medal game), but he gave him insight into the indomitable work ethic that pushes Kobe past the miles on his body and the years in the Association. He got to see first hand how hard this cat works, both offensively and defensively every day for 3 months. That would have an impact on anyone, especially anyone who has had designs on being the best player ever, who captured his first SI cover at 16, who has had consistent questions about his dedication to the game. So, members of his class, you know who to thank when you're compared to Gary Payton, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone after you retire...you know, that 'great career, no rings' group that these guys belong to because they happened to be born in the wrong years: Mr. Kobe Bean Bryant.
But, maybe I'm wrong.
Maybe he wills the Cavs past the Magic this year, eviscerates whoever they play in the Finals, becomes a god in Cleveland, never leaves, captures 6 MVPs (three in a row at a time, because people get tired of voting for him (see Malone, Karl) and give it to someone less deserving), puts the stranglehold on the league NOW as opposed to a year from now, and we get to watch Dwayne Wade complete his reenactment of Penny Hardaway's career sooner than expected, because LeBron stole his will to compete. Because it is going to happen. It's all a matter of when.