The LeBron Shot Redux
Belated postgame thoughts from The Commish
By Vincent Thomas/ @vincecathomas
When Hedo knocked down that tough 12-footer (after that clutch trey to tie it up) for the go-ahead lead with 1.0 second left on the clock, I was getting ready to start writing a “this is easily the dopest four-game winning for streak of the season, for any squad” column. Think about it: Magic were down 2-3 against the Cs and won an elimination game in Orlando, then went to BOSTON and table-legged the Cs to win the series. If that weren’t enough, they claw back from 16-down to take Game 1 from steamrolling Cleveland at the Q, where the Cavs were 39-2 during the season. Then a Game 2 comeback, after being down 23? On the road? That might have been one of the great four-game winning streaks … ever.
The Cavs fans definitely weren’t all that confident that anything good was going down in that last second. Those that stayed were as dejected as I’ve ever seen a group of fans. You can tell that they had been duped into believing the invincibility-stories they were getting served by local and national media, forgetting that Orlando had their number during the regular season. So when Hedo dropped that gritty jumper, with barely any time left, the reality of taking an 0-2 hole to Florida had suffocated the crowd into a state of grief. Some fans even started LEAVING THE ARENA!!! I can dig some skepticism, but LEAVE THE ARENA? They did know that LeBron was a Cav , right? The procession of fans that trekked up the aisles during that final timeout are so despicable that they deserved to miss the greatest shot in the history of their franchise and, possibly, probably, arguably, the greatest and most jubilant sports moment in the history of their city.
The LeBron Shot … so much for writing a neat column about a Magic win-streak. After sitting through the press conference, yapping about the game at a bar with some fellow journos and mulling over everything during my two-hour drive back to Buffalo, I decided that there was just too much to discuss. Mo Williams said he felt “punch-drunk” after the game. I’m still in a mild state of delirium, too. So, after witnessing one of the great games of the decade, here are some belated post game thoughts that range from trivial to compelling…
Mo Williams is becoming one of my favorite dudes in the NBA. I’d say “he’s real,” but I’m not Stuart Scott … or Michael Scott. So, I’ll say he’s authentic. He’s also entertaining and he’s taking advantage of the Playoff Stage. He has the kind of astral-travely quality that, mixed with his wit and genuine streetness, makes for some great appearances at the post game podiums. He was a star, last night, providing a ton of comic relief and great perspective. He said he felt like he had time to say a 10-minute prayer between the time the ball left Bron’s hands, knocked around the rim and dropped through the net. He said LeBron was Option B and Option C. And Option D? “Big Game James” — LeBron, not Worthy. My man was on a roll. Although it’s possible that his bald-fade cut makes everything he says slightly more amusing, I’m pretty sure we’re finally getting to know one of the league’s true characters. That’s what happens in the Playoffs. Mo was one of the guys that I included in my Playoff Stage column for NBA.com, earlier this week. Given that his value to the Cavs went largely ignored and under-appreciated for most of the season, I felt like a quality conference finals would finally get him the recognition, as a player, he deserves. Mo had seven big points in the final five minutes and, what he described as, the biggest assist of his career — his inbounds pass to LeBron, a pass made with the added pressure of not having a timeout and only one true option (LeBron) on the receiving-end. After Bron’s game-winner, while everyone else was going mad on the court — and in the stands — Mo dropped to his knees and pounded the floor, then he got up, pulled his headband around his neck and looked like he either won the lottery or just had some unreal sex. When he got to the locker room, he said to himself, “This is what I’ve been missing.” Absolutely. I’m sure it’s not a chore being young and rich, but trudging through a glass-ceilinged season in Milwaukee can’t compare to this. THIS is NBA basketball. You could say that Mo’s career officially began, yesterday. Dudes like Michael Redd, Chris Bosh, etc — they can score all they want and get all the All-Star invites and sign big contracts, but, on a competitive level, that’s all inconsequential. “This” is what they’re missing — Playoff Basketball. I’m glad the Playoffs are giving us mo’ Mo.
I hope that — after winning two elimination games in the Boston series, then coming to Cleveland and smacking the Cavs back to reality — Orlando finally has everyone’s respect. It took me a while to come around. When I voted Van Gundy as COY, it was partly out of disrespect for the Magic roster. But this much is clear — they have talented shot makers and they play, surprisingly, the best perimeter defense in the league. Watching the Magic rotate, as the opponent tries to zip the rock to the open man, is a beautiful thing. I mean, these dudes get AFTER it. But chances are that you still don’t respect Orlando and I know why — Dwight Howard. When the face of the franchise is a goofball (a very lovable goofball, but, still, a goofball) it doesn’t engender respect. The Lakers are Kobe. The Cavs are LeBron. The Nuggets are Chauncey-Melo. Those are substantial, consequential players that elicit everything from respect to reverence. But with all Dwight’sshuckin -n-jiving, he creates this childish haze around the Magic. But that’s not them, at all. This squad is seriously for real. And, to Howard’s credit, Game 1 was the best offensive performance I’ve ever seen from him. He was doing it against a statue (Big Z), still, the big man was wheelin-n-dealin ‘ on them lames. I just wish he played and behaved with more weight, seriousness and combativeness on a more consistent basis. It’s coming, right? And while we’re here, Orlando’s six-man nucleus for the future (Dwight, Hedo, ‘Shard, Pietrus , Jameer and Lee) are all under 30 and, collectively, reasonably salaried. They’ll be contending for a while and I can envision a ‘ship — maybe even this season. When on they’re on their game, they are that good. Just ask LeBron.
LeBron said several times that the four best teams in the league are the four teams still playing basketball (and thrice — in a sort of contemplative, phew-like mumble — made a comment about how Orlando is “really good”). You can’t argue with that. Denver and L.A. are clearly the best squads in the West and Orlando and Cleveland can make the same claim for the East. I can’t remember four better games to begin the conference finals. Drama. Runs. Shot-making. Stars. It’s the Platinum Age.
I asked Mike Brown if, on the flight to Orlando, he and his squad will experience some kind of figurative postpartum depression. In other words, once the glee and jubilee of Bron’s shot subsides, at some point they will take stock of the series and the reality that they gave up two huge leads and were a miraculous shot away from heading to Orlando down 0-2 is gonna set in. Maybe that euphoria morphs into unease and concern. Brown flipped it and said you could look at it from the opposite viewpoint, like they’re a Lewis game-winner from being up 2-0. But we all know better than that. Cleveland is in trouble, because the Magic clearly have they’re number. And I think the Cavs know it, too. We might even say that Cleveland’s estimation of Orlando could be edging past respect into the realm of a healthy fear. Game 3 will tell us a lot.
After LeBron and Mo left the podium, my man Kyle Hightower (Magic beat writer and my good friend from when I was with him at the Sentinel) zipped to the local pub to kop a drink before last call. Sentinel photog Gary Green hung with us. He grew up in Cleveland. He ran through all of ‘em: The Shot, The Drive, The Fumble … The Curse. He said no one man is bigger than The Curse, which is why he was so taken aback by the new version of The Shot. That’s why this LeBron-Cleveland dynamic is unlike anything we’ve seen in the NBA. A region of about three million people — who carry on lives marked by the doom-n-gloom of Rust Belt economic depression and sports tragedies — is really looking at this one young man as a Messiah. And he’s close to delivering. This shot was the next level. In fact, it might redefine the phrase “The Shot” altogether. “The Shot” won’t be MJ’s crushing series-winner over Craig Ehlo in 1989, but LeBron’s first playoff buzzer-beater. “Well, that guy [MJ] is not in the league anymore,” said James, when he was asked about MJ’s shot. “This 23 is on the good side now. The other 23 is gone, so we don’t have to worry about that no more.” The beautiful audacity of this young dude. He’s trying to erase and rewrite history.
When I asked LeBron about looking at his shot within the context of his growing legacy, he fed me some BS about how he probably won’t do that until he retires. Baloney, homey. He is probably the most self-aware athlete other than Kobe, Tiger and A-Rod. So, you can bet he was sitting in his locker, thinking about when this shot would turn up in his Sports Century or how a championship will add even more historical weight to it. I mean, right before he answered my question, he he spoke of his hope of sticking “my foot in that category with Magic and Jerry West and Jordan and all these other guys that made spectacular plays on the biggest stage in the world.” And then later on, he reminisced about not leaving the gym, as a kid, until he hit one of those simulated, “5…4…3…2…1…ehhhhhh” fantasy-shots. This is a dude with a campaign that tells us that we are all witnesses. Witnesses to what? To his developing greatness and growing legacy. It ain’t gonna take retirement for him to assess the historic value of what he did Friday night. It was one for the ages. He’s one for the ages.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM, a contributing commentator for ESPN and writes the weekly “From The Floor” column for NBA.com. You can email him your feedback at email@example.com or “follow” him on Twitter at @vincecathomas.