Slamadamonth, SLAM #70: Charlie Villanueva

Originally published in SLAM 70

Deep in the bowels of the Gund, hours before the start of the 26th annual McDonald’s All-American Game, LeBron James called the meeting to order. “Look guys, I’ve been getting enough attention lately. Too much, really. Someone else needs to take some of the shine tonight. Who’s it gonna be?”

The best high school players in America looked around at one another. Who, as Guru once asked, was gonna take the weight? The silence stretched out for what felt like minutes until 6-10 Charlie Villanueva stood up. “I got you, Bron.” Pounds were exchanged, plans were made.

And as the game got rolling, Bron was true. He left Charlie a perfect alley-oop off the glass on the break, threw him a disturbingly accurate lookaway alley from the three-point line. It was all working well. At the half, Bron didn’t exchange words with Villanueva—he just looked over and nodded.

Then the fast break happened. Chris Paul with the rock, Arizona-bound Ndudi Ebi back on D. Paul dropped a perfect bounce pass to Villanueva, who caught it in stride and boomed it over Ebi. And one. In mid-shimmy, Villanueva spotted LeBron exchanging glances with some guy on the sidelines who was wearing a suit. Wasn’t that…yes, it was. Illinois coach Bill Self.

From then on, LeBron took over, pushing his MVP game, even throwing down a double-clutch reverse on the break that end up as the top highlight. Holding the trophy afterward, he eyed Charlie: “Sorry man, it ain’t personal. Illinois just wants to make sure they get that letter.”

Russ Bengtson