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NBA Finals 2011: All Eyes on LeBron James for Game 5

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NBA Finals 2011: All Eyes on LeBron James for Game 5
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One of the more entertaining parts about my job is the phone calls we receive in the early morning.

For some of our readers, the idea of Google is completely foreign, and the easiest way to find out sports information is to call the news front desk, have them transfer the call to sports, and have the phone located five feet away from my desk ring incessantly for a minute or two before I finally cave in and pick it up.

Sometimes, the questions are simple. “Who won the Yankees game last night?” or “How many points did Amare have?” are far more common than the obscure, “How much time was left on the clock when the Rangers scored their third goal two weeks ago?” variety.

Most of the time, the answers can be found with a quick flip through of the paper or a five -second Google search, but occasionally, a question comes that leaves me speechless.

For example, after the New York Knicks lost Game 4 to the Boston Celtics, I received a call from a livid 70-year-old man.

“You wanna know why the Knicks lost that series?” the man said the second after I answered the phone.

“Why’s that?” I replied, knowing that this would be good.

“It’s the tattoos,” he said matter-of-factly. “Those damn tattoos.”

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“Come again?”

“It’s all those damn tattoos that the Knicks are wearing,” he said. I held back my giggles thinking of the players wearing tattoos the way one wears a jersey or a hat. “Ya got your Carmella and ya got your Amare and they’re all covered in tattoos.”

I didn’t know whether to go psychiatrist on him with a, “How does that make you feel,” response or simply hang up the phone altogether, but since I would always wonder what this man’s rationale was if I didn’t ask for more, I responded, “But how do the tattoos make the Knicks lose? The Celtics have tattoos too.”

“They don’t have nearly as many,” the man replied. “Maybe if the Knicks would focus on their game rather than getting tattoos, they could win like the Celtics.”

So there you have it. The secret to the Celtics’ four-game sweep of the Knicks was the difference in tattoos. Here I was thinking it was about the Celtics ability to close out games or the injuries to Amare and Billups, but the answer was written all over the New York players’ bodies.

While this man’s allegiance to the tattoo theory seems ridiculous, is it that far off from any talk of “The Decision” or “The Celebration” being at all related to the Miami Heat’s success or failures in the NBA Finals?

Sure, it may have irked me or you or the entire city of Cleveland when it happened, but realize it happened nearly a year ago. It has no bearing of what happens in this series.

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The moment when I know a show/event/musician needs to be retired is when I hate the amount of hate for the said object. Confused? Me too. Let me explain.

Take the Jersey Shore. I watched 10 minutes of an episode in season one and absolutely hated the show. But I knew it wasn’t even close to being done.

The quotes were heard everywhere, the “Jersey Shore” party theme became more popular than the “sure, I’ll wear a jersey” party and eight out of ten people thought it was hilarious to fist-pump like champs, or whatever the hell it was called, at every single club or basement dance party in America.

I still knew it wasn’t losing any steam. It wasn’t until hundreds of jokes or rants like the one you are reading right now were released that I knew the Jersey Shore was on its way out.

As soon as you become sick of reading about people being sick about something is when the show/event/musician/etc. has run its course. The next season of Jersey Shore—if it’s not currently on the air—will still get some support, but the one after that will be the end.

In the NBA Finals, the death of “The Celebration” was after Game 2 when reporters tried to link the miniature celebration Dwyane Wade and LeBron James did in front of Dallas’ bench to the greater celebration, “The Celebration” if you will, that took place last July.

At that point, I think most of us were fed up with hearing people being fed up, thus marking the end of the conversation.

It may not ring true for other writers, but I hereby announce my retirement from mentioning “The Celebration” or “The Decision” when talking about the Miami Heat.

In my mind, I’m just going to assume the Chris Bosh Toronto Raptors years never existed—which is not that far from the truth, I don’t know if I could find any game film of that era—and that LeBron’s Cleveland years were all just a figment of our wildest imaginations.

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To me, I don’t remember how they all came together, all I know is they are together now, in Miami, and will be for at least the next five years.

If the Mavericks win this series, and people want to link the Heat’s loss to events that happened last summer, that’s fine, but to me that’s only a step above thinking the Heat lost because of LeBron’s tattoos.

The series is now tied two games a piece, which honestly, is the way it should be since the series has been decided by a grand total of 15 points in four games.

Yes, the Miami Heat has, for the most part, looked more dominant in these four games. They’ve established bigger leads, they’ve played incredible defense and Dwyane Wade is back to his 2006 self.

With the exception of two late game collapses/Mavericks comebacks, the Heat could have swept the Mavericks in four games, giving them one of the most impressive postseason runs in NBA history.

But they didn’t. We now have a best of three series and honestly, either team could come out victorious.

Both Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki have made cases for why they should win the Finals MVP. Their play has been phenomenal, but just like the rest of this season, the focus is once again on LeBron James.

I was glad to see that after Game 3, the vast majority of writers defended LeBron James pointing out his nine assists and once again stellar defense on Jason Terry. This idea that LeBron was “shrinking” from the challenge was widely disproven and we all moved on with our lives.

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One thing this NBA Finals has done for me is make me question not if there’s a media bias one way or the other, but who the hell this “The Media” is? If 99 percent of the writers defended LeBron James after Game 3, how is it possible that The Media said LeBron was shrinking?

The best explanation I have is The Media is this one crafty lawyer who sneaks in a ridiculous question—that of course gets objected to—but plants a seed of doubt within the jury’s head.

Ninety-nine percent of the other writers make the case for why this question was out of line and completely ridiculous, but in the end the jury is left wondering, “You know, maybe it is LeBron’s tattoos.”

Going into Game 4, I was ready for LeBron to have a monster game and once again shut this mysterious The Media figure up. This was his time to say how dare you compare me to Scottie Pippen, I’m LeBron James and this is what I do.

But instead, LeBron gave us 8 points. The lowest total of his entire playoff career.

Granted, an 8 points, 7 assists, 9 rebound game is not far away from a 12 point, 10 assist, 10 rebound game that would have been hard for even the biggest LeBron hater to discredit, but it wasn’t what he needed to do.

Yes, it’s ironic that this man who critics wanted to label as a prideful, selfish, ego-driven monster is also guilty of giving up millions of dollars to play in Miami, share the spotlight with two other stars and is now being criticized for playing too unselfishly on offense.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
We love when a blue collar team like the Detroit Pistons or blue collar player like Ben Wallace plays hard defense, but when LeBron does it, we hardly give it the recognition it deserves.

The problem I see with LeBron, in these four NBA Finals games, is the fact that me or J.A. Adande or anyone else writing about him is having to defend just how well he has played. Honestly, it’s starting to feel like the reaction to M. Night Shyamalan after he created "The Village."

Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” was so incredible, that the bar was set extraordinarily high for whatever his next movies would be. Likewise, LeBron James’ 8 years in the NBA and his 2011 postseason run, up until the Finals, were his Sixth Sense equivalent.

Game 1, he gave us Unbreakable, a solid performance but not quite at the level of Sixth Sense. Game 2, we got Signs, Game 3 The Village. Game 4, we were ready to toss out The Village and believe that another Sixth Sense was coming, but instead got Lady in the Water.

LeBron has two or three more games in this series to give us a heroic performance, but he also has the opportunity to give us The Happening and, dear God hopefully not, The Last Airbender.

LeBron says that winning is all that matters to him, and I actually do believe him, but I know personal legacy carries some weight. It does for all of us.

Gaining a reputation for being the Heat’s defensive stopper is good, but he’s not aiming to become Ron Artest. Gaining a reputation for being a facilitator as Dwyane Wade does the scoring is too much Scottie Pippen.

If I was on the playground picking my team, there is no question I would pick LeBron James over Scottie Pippen. However, the NBA Finals statistics have not been flattering to LeBron in that comparison so far.

Here’s what Scottie Pippen put up in the first four games of his second NBA Finals, when he was 26 years old, nearly the same scenario LeBron is in right now age and experience wise.

 

Pippen: 18.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 8.2 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.5 bpg, 3.7 turnovers

 

This is LeBron’s line:

 

LeBron: 17.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 6.2 apg, 2.2 spg, 0.2 bpg, 3.5 turnovers

 

Besides steals and a 0.2 difference in turnovers, Pippen has better numbers across the board through four games. The Bulls would go on to win that series in 6 games, something the Heat could still do.

LeBron is more than capable of an eruption in Game 5. He’s a special enough player that an eruption could mean 40 points or it could mean 20, 15 and 10 or it could be locking down Terry and hitting several big shots of his own.

Whatever it looks like, the Miami Heat need it to happen in Game 5 in order to be successful.

To LeBron, which side of the 3-2 mark his team is on will be his primary concern, but at some point, which side of the 26-year-old Scottie Pippen comparison has to mean something too.

If and/or when he has that Sixth Sense type of performance, there will be no debate to how good it was.

We will know, because suddenly no one will be out defending that his game was actually good, but instead discussing where it ranks in playoff history.

Until then, we will wait for what comes next from M. Night ShyamaLeBron.

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