What The King Did

by August 29, 2008

By Jake Appleman

Last year I helped out SLAM and Nike by contributing to a site called HoopsFuture. One of the pieces I wrote for them came on the heels of LeBron’s 50 point outing at the Garden. Since that website no longer exists, I figured it’d be fun to rerun this piece here. Enjoy.

It’s hard to imagine, but LeBron James was once a lightening rod for criticism. Many of these criticisms (accepted a gift…jumpshot needed work) clouded the inevitable reality that he was destined for great things. Still, people look at him too often solely to gawk at the genius of his physical gifts. The razor-sharp mental acuity is just as tangibly brilliant–and equally important.

I was at LeBron’s virtuoso performance against the Knicks this Wednesday night at the Garden. After the King dropped 50, I felt like Mozart had played a riveting concerto, but only after smashing a piano over my head. I was impressed not because he scored 50 but because he scored 48 after scoring 2 in the first quarter. And the mental preparation and execution behind what he did while scoring those 2 measly points were just as impressive as anything else he did that night, save the absurd, buzzer-beating fadeaway from just in front of half-court.

“Typical start for James, rarely looking for his offense,” Clyde Frazier said on the MSG broadcast. Let’s check LeBron’s impact while scoring those 2 points, because you sure won’t see these plays on the highlight reels.

–Standing almost parallel to the sideline, LeBron causally whips a behind the back bounce pass to Anderson Varejao down low. Varejao find Devin Brown in the corner for 3. (Hockey assist)

–Draws a double in the post and feeds a cutting Varejao–foul drawn. (Assist impact)

–Pick and roll with Devin Brown, finds Brown slipping to the cup. Brown misses the dunk. (Assist potential)

–A few possessions without touches for LeBron result in the Knicks taking the lead.

–He hits a step-back jumper. Smooth as butter. Cavs take the lead back and he’s keeping the defense honest.

–Doubles Eddy Curry in the post, literally engulfs his attempted pass out to the perimeter, and finds Delonte West with a sick feed in transition; West hits the pull-up. (Assist)

–Throws a lob pass to Ben Wallace, who is fouled trying to convert. This is mostly made possible by the fact that the defense is gearing up to stop him and barely cares about Wallace. Implausibly, Wallace hits both free throws. (Assist impact)

–Accurately throws a complex, over-head left-handed pass that finds Wallace underneath for what would seem like an easy deuce. He makes the hardest things look simple. Big Ben, instead of taking the easy two or the free throws, kicks it out to a wide open Delonte West. West drills the 3. (Hockey assist…)

–Makes the easy pass to Devin Brown. Brown hits a 3. (Assist)

–Grabs a rebound, pushes the ball ahead. The lazy Knicks transition defense heads towards the middle of the floor to prevent his attack. He makes the easy play and finds West for another 3, all of this coming after the Knicks called timeout. (Assist)

–Feeds Ben Wallace for an easy 2. (Assist)

–Drives through multiple defenders–but misses.

–Feeds an open Joe Smith. Smith makes an open 20 footer. (Assist)

–Feeds an open Joe Smith again. Smith misses. (Assist potential)

–Spoon-feeds Ben Wallace for an easy two, except Wallace somehow misses the easy finish, like a baby spitting up Gerber. (Assist potential.)

–Last possession of the first quarter: He sizes up Jared Jeffries, but slips–only to recover–and miss an incredibly tough fade-away.

Count ’em: 4 actual assists, 2 hockey assists, 3 plays with assist-impact and two assists that weren’t granted because of missed shots. 11 possessions in 12 minutes: he changed the game without scoring. It was the prelude to the show that everyone’s been talking about.

After the game I asked LeBron about these hockey assists and other types of assists. “I attract so many double teams my teammates know they’re gonna get shots on the backside,” he said. “It opened things up in the second half.” That’s the key: Everything that people are raving about wasn’t truly possible without the setup.

LeBron isn’t going to go down in history as an all-time great (the best…TBD) because of what he does for himself. He’s going to go down in history as an all time great because of what he does for others.

There’s a popular saying that goes something like, “It’s not what you do that people remember you by. It is how you made them feel.”

Just ask the fan that ran on to the court to meet his hero.