Lest you believed the blood that poured from his nose two weeks ago somehow proved him human, LeBron James gave us 61 reasons to remember that he is on a level that can't be touched.
The Miami Heat record and a new career high: LeBron’s blistering 61-point detonation in a 124-107 win over the Charlotte Bobcats Monday night was both of these things.
Trace the thread deeper down, 61 told a lot of other tales, too.
LeBron has only scored 50+ one other time since joining the Heat.— Sean Highkin (@highkin) March 4, 2014
Most 50-point games in regular season, active players- Kobe Bryant 24, LeBron James 10, Carmelo Anthony 4— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 4, 2014
Worth noting that LeBron is doing this against the 6th-ranked defense.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) March 4, 2014
But that wasn’t all it was. Because, whether LeBron admits it or not—and knowing him, he’d never say it as such—this was, above all else, a statement game.
Toward whom, it should be obvious.
True, Kevin Durant wasn’t the one who clobbered LeBron—not once, but twice—on a rim-ward drive late in Miami’s decisive 103-81 demolition of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 20. That was Serge Ibaka.
Durant wasn’t the one who told LeBron he’d have to wear a protective mask over his face for the foreseeable future. That was LeBron’s doctor.
Durant hasn’t come out and said the Heat have had their day, so pave way for the next in line. That was all of us.
And nor is Durant a nemesis—the two are noted friends.
What Durant is, for LeBron, can best be summed up by Sir Edmund Hillary’s reason for besting Everest: Because it’s there.
Like the legends of death and demise that Hillary no doubt heard as he primed his body and mind for that peerless feat—the tales that somehow made the mountain taller—LeBron has doubtless taken tabs on Durant’s transfixing MVP threat.
That last showdown was supposed to be the retort, the barbaric yawp straight into KD’s eardrum. Instead, even in victory, it was LeBron who bled for all eyes to see, and especially OKC’s.
Come the morning after 61, there isn’t an NBA ear who won't hear.
Funny thing is, not even LeBron knew it would go down that way. Sure, he’d tallied 24 at halftime, but how many times could he claim that?
Then the third quarter happened: two three-pointers and another jumper in the first three minutes, a third triple at the halfway point, two more on back-to-back possessions moments later.
His 8-of-8 start from distance was the second best in NBA history.
Twenty-five third-quarter points later, LeBron wasn’t only taking aim at Glen Rice’s Heat record of 56, he was well within striking distance of the season’s other incendiary symphony: Carmelo Anthony’s 62-point opus against these same Bobcats on Jan. 24.
LeBron wouldn’t quite level the latter—he’d leave with just under two minutes left, the game squarely in hand—but the resonance will linger far longer.
The win—Miami’s 11th in its last 12 games—keeps the Heat within two games of the conference-leading Indiana Pacers, and ahead of both the Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
With six of their next seven games coming against teams well within the postseason picture, the Heat needed every one of them.
For now, though, the focus falls—fairly if ever there was such a thing—on the man in the mask.
Because at 29 years old, LeBron can still make us believe he’s got another dozen gears into which he’s yet to shift.
Because believing the greatest was someone else and acknowledging we’ll never witness another LeBron need not be mutually exclusive.
Because if the Heat are beat, it won't be because they don’t boast the best.
Speaking to reporters after the game, LeBron offered up as genuine an explanation as he could for what had just gone down.
After a career night, LeBron James has a simple explanation for being LOCKED IN A ZONE. pic.twitter.com/9opmon5oZk— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 4, 2014
Beyond that? Chalk it up to the fan in the rafters, according to CBS Sports' Royce Young:
“The man above has given me some unbelievable abilities to play this game of basketball,” LeBron said in his postgame interview. “I try to take advantage of it each and every night.”
In an age where the spheres of sports and science creep toward singularity—where everything from the “hot hand” to “clutch genes” to chemistry have been put under the monetary microscope—citing a higher power for one’s prowess risks sounding coy.
But coming from the man in the mask, perhaps we should view such divine deference as a cue to consider another possibility altogether: If the one player for whom basketball genius fancies us fitting can’t even conjure an explanation, maybe it’s OK if we can’t either.