Cavaliers, WWW

Appreciate the Greatness: While We’re Waiting

LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers Cavs
Scott Sargent/WFNY

One could argue that if a man is provided the genes to be 6-8, 270 pounds, that he has a leg up on the competition when it comes to being a superstar athlete. Ask any NBA player, however, about how many individuals they came across during their journey to the brightest of stages who may have had all of the God-given gifts but never quite made it, and each one of them would be able to give you a laundry list of names. The Jimmys and Johnnys who had all of the measurables, mimicked all the moves, could turn a park court inside-out, and thought they would be the next AI only to not put in the work required, their dreams disappearing as it became evident all too late that the game required so much more.

As LeBron James was sitting at the podium following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ third consecutive first-round sweep in the NBA Playoffs, he waxed poetically about the difficulty in winning playoff games, reminded everyone that the Indiana Pacers were led by a top 10 player in the league, but the differences in the final scores were made behind the scenes during practice and film study, and at the margins during the course of games, during moments where fans least expect it. While it will be easy to focus on yet another 70-point effort from The Big Three, or much more fun to poke at J.R. Smith’s behind-the-back attempt in the game’s most crucial moment, James chose to focus on a moment that was neither a highlight nor by one of the Cavs’ most discussed players.

While describing Deron Williams, in the middle of a thought, James appeares to disappear into his own mind, his eyes no longer focused on the media room, but down and to his right where he stared at nothing, delivering a tangent that could best be described as the NBA’s version of the moment when Will Farrell’s character in Old School zoned out during the debate.

“You see the one possession where I swung to it Channing [Frye], Channing swung it to him. He pump-faked Myles Turner, looked off Paul George and laid it up…”

Then he comes to, once again directing his thoughts to the horde. “It’s kind of crazy—I can replay all the plays in my head, huh?”

But it’s not crazy. While the rest of us have trouble remembering what we had for breakfast hours earlier, James’ mind is an external hard drive full of every play he’s been a part of—and some that took place way before his rookie season—residing there for the rare moment one of them needs to be plucked and replayed, audibly or simply in his own head.

In that same interview following Game 4, James was asked about the last time he lost a first-round game. He was reminded that it was the New York Knicks back in May of 2012. The first thing James recalled?

“J.R. had a nice move that game, by the way. Windmill dunk on the baseline. We won that [series] in five, right? Appreciate it.”

J.R. Smith made three field goals in that game, missing 11 others, yet that is what James recalled.

In a 2014 piece penned by Brian Windhorst, James’ friend Brandon Weems discussed how frustrated it was to play LeBron in video games when they were children as the future four-time MVP would memorize every move, dominating his would-be competition. It discusses a moment where James recommended an alteration to a play drawn up by Erik Spolestra based on something that transpired three years earlier. It discusses a moment when a reporter tries to tell James that a shot he took in that day’s game was akin to one a few years earlier—and James shooting it down like a clay pidgeon.

“That one was probably about six feet closer to the baseline and inside the 3-point arc,” said James. “It was over Ronny Turiaf, I stepped back on him but I crossed him over first and got him on his heels. I’m sure of it. It was down the sideline a few feet. It was a side out-of-bounds play; this one we brought up.”

He was right.

There will be a day when James is no longer playing basketball. By this time, there will have been countless other teammates and passes and defenders and screens and pump fakes that will compile a litany of plays that will be cataloged in his mind. We’ll look back and remember the highlight dunks, pinpoint passes and wins—both regular season and playoff. We’ll reminisce about the championship he brought Cleveland in June of 2016, recalling the feeling that washed over an entire city not just in that moment, but for an entire summer. But one thing we should not forget is that LeBron never did—he chronicled it all, using his memory to guide future decisions, calculating moves by the millisecond to give himself that much more of an advantage over his competition.

As if a 6-foot-8-inch, 270-pound man without a shred of body fat needed another advantage… It’s the difference between good and great. It’s the difference between great and LeBron James.

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  1. This was extremely well done. []
  2. It’s to the point where I can spell his name without having to double-check. []
  3. A fantastic read, and your reminder that columns, too, can be #ActualSportswriting. []

  • RGB
  • Chris

    This guy will age wonderfully in the league. He may need to tweak his style of play as he gets banged up or loses some explosiveness, but his mind is sharper than ever and his passing is as good as ever. I want to see him play with LBJr. I think he can do it.

    Also, was he wearing his 2016 ring in that interview? Love it.

  • humboldt

    Really well said, Scott. I believe after Game 7 in the Finals last year, Kyrie was asked about watching Lebron’s triple-double performance and said something like, “I was watching Beethoven out there tonight.” Indeed, within his sport, he has absolutely achieved that level of genius, prodigiousness, and artistry.

    Yesterday, when he hit that three-pointer at the end of the game I just found myself laughing out loud at how transcendently good he is. They may not win a repeat title this year (so many variables at play), but I’m going to enjoy the hell out of remainder of the playoff run and the rest of his time in a Cleveland uniform.

  • Harv

    Accord every word, Scott, and I was also thinking about Windy’s article during his presser. With about 3 minutes to go LeBron, who had played the entire second half and was in the middle of every play, not only didn’t look gassed but wasn’t even breathing hard. Prepares his body better than anyone, never gets seriously hurt, and once he figured it out in 2012 has played his very best at the very biggest moments.

    This is a twice a century Cleveland athlete, a guy who won the genetic lottery yet somehow still is maximizing that level of potential. Sorry, Jim Brown was not a better baller than LeBron. He was closer to Albert Belle, in many ways. Screw the misery montage. Lucky, lucky us.

  • RGB

    How quickly you forget about Christian Eyenga.

  • Harv

    Didn’t CHRIS Grant also draft a bust named “Christmas”? Maybe dude needed to expand his fav name list.

  • tsm

    Great article. I have had the pleasure of watching Jim Brown’s entire career and now LeBron’s. We may not have the most titles, but we have 2 of the best ever. Their common thread is their intelligence.

  • BenRM

    It’s all so clear now!

  • nj0

    Russian hackers are the new bogeyman.

  • Chris

    If Lindor would just sign his damn extension, we could have three!

  • chrisdottcomm

    Christian Eyenga. SKYenga.

    fixed that for you.

  • Saggy

    for $100 mil? Not a chance.

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