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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

LeBron James is the Casey of basketball

Posted By on 05.29.13 at 12:32 PM

LeBron James playing in game four of the Eastern Conference finals last night
  • AP Photo/Michael Conroy
  • LeBron James playing in game four of the Eastern Conference finals last night
LeBron James is a frightening athlete. I’ve never seen his like. Well, maybe Michael Jordan. But Jordan played in Chicago, and we saw enough of him to know his powers weren’t absolute. We hoped Jordan would lift the Bulls to victory in the games they absolutely had to win, and over his last six full seasons Jordan always did. But there were no guarantees.

James plays basketball with a lackadaisical menace. He doesn’t demand the ball; he doesn’t hog Miami’s shots. But when a shot has to be blocked, or the ball stolen, or a basket jammed home, James provides what the occasion demands so effortlessly and routinely that the game always seems to resolve itself according to a script he's writing on the fly. We rooted for the Heat to lose to the Bulls but didn’t expect them to. Now we’re rooting for them to lose to Indiana, but we don’t expect that to happen either.

When the game is undecided in the closing minutes we think it's because James is indulging the opposition. We wait for him to unleash himself. I watched the second game of the Heat-Pacers series with about half a dozen people and no one in the room expected the Pacers, even though they clung to a small lead in the closing minutes, to still be ahead at the end. James would do something.

He did. He turned the ball over. Last night, as game four concluded, again we waited for James to take over. He effortlessly tossed in a three. And then he fouled out.

Indiana won both those games. Though neither was a game seven.

Watching the Miami Heat close out its playoff games is like watching Casey bat for Mudville in the ninth. There is ease in James’s manner; there is pride in his bearing. His bulk and visage promise cruel violence. Audiences don't just hope, or dread. They know.

Time and again in similar circumstances, Casey, to raise expectations so high, must have hammered the ball high over the fence and into the pasture beyond.

But the poet saw him strike out. And if there was no joy in Mudville, folks in that other town must have been ecstatic.

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