By Nima Zarrabi
Indianapolis—I have seen the birth certificate online. I know it by heart at this point: Lebron Raymone James, born 12/30/84, Akron, Ohio. The document has a watermark and a signature from the registrar. Legit. But it’s still hard to believe. And not because of his physical stature, skill-set or cerebral movements. It’s the presence. How does a 24-year-old fully grasp presence? No f–king idea. King James has it down pat. Walking onto the hardwood before the Cavs were to face the Pacers on Wednesday night, shoulders and traps ready to burst out of a tight shooting shirt, James begins his trek. It starts with exchanging handshakes and pleasantries with the refs—this will surely come into play later. Next, it’s the layup line and a sick dunk for the Indiana crowd.
Then it’s about loosening up his team by just doing LBJ: pulling jumpers from halfcourt (in his normal shooting form—ridiculous), putting Damon Jones in a headlock while he gets his hammies stretched out and then later, dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Gonna Be Startin Somethin”. A 7-year-old boy performs the national anthem on his trumpet and when he’s finished, James immediately comes over to give love. The game hasn’t even tipped and Lebron is subtly letting everyone know that he’s destined for a great night. I will try and not make this a King James love-fest, but anyone out there who thinks the NBA game has gone to “hell in a spaceship”, please watch this cat for 48 minutes.
—Lineups are announced and not to go Harry Edwards on everyone, but the Pacers start 4 white guys: Travis Diener, Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster. Jermaine O’Neal, Jamaal Tinsley and David Harrison are out with injuries. Luckily they have Danny Granger. D-Grange goes for 11 in the 1st quarter while working hard on both ends. He is hands down the 2nd best player on the court tonight, showcasing a deft shooting touch and non-stop hustle. Hard to believe that the Los Angeles Clippers selected Yaroslav Korolev (hailed as the next Toni Kukoc. Seriously) five picks ahead of this guy in the 2005 draft. Take that back—standard procedure for the Clips.
—Poor Shawne Williams. The rookie from Memphis enters the game with 2:11 left in the 1st quarter and his assignment is to lock up James. Despite being 6-9 and freaky athletic, he is no match for the King who runs off 7 straight points in a matter of seconds. Indiana makes a quick switch and James ends up with 9 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in the first stanza.
James cools off in the second quarter, missing all three shot attempts but adding four more assists. Drew Gooden and Daniel Gibson carry the scoring load while Murphy and Granger do their best to keep Indy close, down six points at the half.
—The injury depleted Pacers finally make some noise in the 3rd quarter thanks to an 11-0 run that puts them ahead 72-66, leading to a Cleveland timeout. James stops the bleeding following the timeout by running off 11 straight points of his own to end the quarter with Cleveland down 81-79.
—Daniel Gibson goes down during the quarter with a sprained ankle after he and Diener chase a loose ball. It looks bad. Following an injury timeout, the entire Cleveland bench walks over to check on Gibson who is eventually helped off the court and would not return. Gibson finishes with 19 points, knocking down the majority via 5 three-pointers in the 1st half.
—The fourth quarter gets interesting with about 6:30 left: Granger finds a seam and tries to throw down a dunk and is clearly fouled by Larry Hughes, but the refs don’t give him the call and dub it a block. An incensed Granger hustles back down court and fouls Zydrunas Ilgauskas (that dome hasn’t seen sun in a minute) on a shot attempt and then goes ballistic on the ref for missing the call on the other end. The usually calm D-Grange gets a tech with the game tied at 90, putting Iggy on the line for three free throws. Iggy makes two out of three. The teams exchange a few baskets before Iggy knocks down a couple jumpers to put Cleveland up 97-94. Following an Indiana timeout, Diener misses a three-pointer and then is called for a questionable loose ball foul against Lebron on the other end with 2:45 left in the game (presence?). Indiana coach Jim O’Brien walks onto the court and goes ape, drawing a technical. Cleveland makes two of the three free throws and essentially puts the game out of reach, eventually ending 106-97 in the Cavs favor.
—King James finishes the contest with a triple-double: 31 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. He also adds 2 steals and a block. Following the game, Cavs Coach Mike Brown praises James proudly outside the visiting lockeroom. “Lebron—What can I say? Back-to-back nights a triple-double. He’s the MVP this year. I don’t care how many games are left. He does everything on the floor for us: he guarded 2’s for us tonight, guarded 3’s tonight and Murphy tonight at the four spot. The guy is the MVP of the league.” Granger led Indiana with 30 points and 8 rebounds.
—When the media circus is allowed into the Cavs lockeroom, every reporter heads straight for King James. Sitting in his corner locker, James has each foot in a bucket of ice and an ace bandage around his rib cage. He looks tired, beat up and over it, but sits calmly and answers every question posed to him. When the media throng walks off, I ask him if he is OK—he looks banged up. “I’m fine,” he says. “I do a good job in the off-season to get my body prepared for a long NBA season. I’m going to definitely take my day off tomorrow and be ready for Friday.” Gibson arrives at his locker—high ankle sprain is the initial prognosis—and I ask James about the entire Cavs bench walking over to make sure he was OK. “That’s the family we have in each other,” he says. “We love each other as teammates. Everyone wanted to make sure he was alright.”
He may not be, but James doesn’t seem worried—the Cavs have been here before. “I’m going to do my thing no matter who is in the game,” he says. Bet that.