Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Tag Archives: Lebron James

Ode to LeBron Raymone James

A post-Jordanian titanium mass of a man,

Rings be damned

If he never wins again

What we have is enough

Memories (feats, destructions) to last us a

Million basketball-less summers

Memories aren’t just for the lonely,

But for the longing too

And the longing don’t have to be lonely

The longing and/or lonely don’t

Need rings or royalty

 

Just a man moving through a

Slow-motion world of

Blank-faced helpless defenders,

A screaming freight train barreling towards punctuality

Narrative be damned

His ability exceeds our qualifications and

Accolades,

Definitions and Parameters,

His existence on-court is

Independent of contemporaries and

Forebears

I’ll take a ghetto blaster and destroy the

Trophy cases with heavy bass

I can’t wait to invent a ray gun just to melt the

Infinite statues symbolizing his greatness

I’m resurrecting René Descartes to help imagine a devilish saw and equations that

Undercut the stats and tables we use to articulate greatness

  

What is victory

Without the struggle?

What is war

Without the sacrifice?

What is success

Without the failure?

The anticipation of a hundred thousand years is

Finally over

We made it

We’re here

And free to believe in whatever we please

 

Let’s Meet at the Crossroads of LeBron and Russell Jones

It started off on the island, aka Shaolin…it was November 9th, 1993, almost 19 years to the day that the Wu-Tang Clan dropped their legendary Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) album and hip-hop was forever changed. While the Clan was busy blowing the minds of hip-hop heads across the globe with their Kung-Fu-inspired lyrics and pro-black mathematics, LeBron Raymone James was kicking it in Akron, Ohio with his mama, Gloria who was all of 24-years-old and raising the boy on her own. Even though there were mystical elements to the Clan (their formation (like Voltron), their lyrics and bizarre obsession with the ways of the East), it’s doubtful they realized the semi-prophetic links between their lyrics, their most infamous member and this fatherless 8-year-old from Akron.

“And and, then we got, then we got the Ol’ Dirty Bastard ‘cause there ain’t no father to his style.” – Method Man

When Meth spoke those words, he articulated everything we ever needed to know about ODB, aka Russell Jones (Also worth noting it was eight years ago today that ODB died—if Wu-Tang’s involved, we can’t over-emphasize the impact of numerology. And while we’re playing around with numbers, the 13th of November is also a birthdate shared by Metta World Peace and myself; so it’s clearly we’re all interconnected and I couldn’t not write this.). In a culture where fathers are far-too-often absent, ODB’s bastardness, when referenced by Meth, was a description of his style. And as any of us who heard his often unhinged roars and raps or followed his numerous incarcerations and impregnatings can attest: The man was (Ason) unique. There never could’ve been a father, a model or path previous feet had stepped (or stumbled).

And in the NBA, where we’re all obsessed with paternal lineage, with father figures, styles and history, obsessed to the point of books, blogs, TV shows and stack ranks; a player’s stylistic bloodline matters. In a marketing sense, Michael Jordan was one of a kind, but in the stylistic sense, he was a descendent of the line of Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, David Thompson and he’s the father of Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Dwyane Wade—the high-flying, slashing, scoring shooting guards. Lines may vary; Shaquille O’Neal, for example, stems from a line that began with George Mikan, who begat Wilt Chamberlain, who begat Shaq and has (somewhat) begat Dwight Howard—physical monstrosities that the game’s rulers (read: Competition Committee) have no idea how to handle.

Shirts are for conformists and we are not conforming.

What of LeBron James? In his game and style, his physique and narrative, we see potential fathers: Karl Malone meets Magic Johnson, Magic Johnson meets Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen meets Karl Malone meets Magic Johnson meets Michael Jordan meets Julius Erving (what?) or my favorite, Charles Barkley meets Scottie Pippen. We badly want our basketball history to evolve the way humans did…Neanderthals to Cro-Magnons to the beings we are today—crawlers, hunched over walkers, upright bipeds, jumpers, runners, dunkers. Oscar Robertson to Magic Johnson to Penny Hardaway to LeBron James to Shaun Livingston—wait, scratch that last one. This continuity is what we crave.

But as he has done for longer than he gets credit for, LeBron James continues to defy classification. In both a technical (if we’re being crude) and ODB-esque sense, LeBron James is a bastard; there is no father to his style. He’s not out there flagrantly breaking Federal or state laws like Dirty. He’s just out there leading the league in PER for the 6th consecutive season, winning MVPs, earning subjective titles like “most versatile defender in the NBA,” being inevitably added to the “potential to be better than Jordan?” conversation and continuing to redefine his fatherless style. This kind of original (both the literal and metaphorical senses) has its faults as we’ve all witnessed with LeBron over the past few years where he’s made mistakes and mishandled complex steps. His “decision” was the equivalent of ODB’s segment on MTV—a serious lack in judgment, an avoidable mistake, a stain that hopefully fades with time (we’re a forgiving, but far from forgetting culture). It’s a lot easier to fuck up like this when you don’t have a dad waiting for you at home with a question like, “What the fuck are you doing? I raised you better than that.”

Missteps aside, LeBron’s undefinability was on full display again in Houston on Monday night when he put Miami on his back and scored 32 second half points, including going 5-7 from three and vaguely referring to his own performance in mythical terms: “It’s the zone you hear about…” But it wasn’t just the “zone,” it was zero turnovers in 40 minutes, ten rebounds, six assists and an effort that Miami desperately needed in order to get the win. And he wasn’t incentivized the way the most cynical of us like to believe: It wasn’t a primetime TNT game on Thursday, it wasn’t even NBA TV, it was on League Pass and locally for Miami and Houston Residents. It wasn’t against Kobe or the Celtics or in front of Dan Gilbert. It was the Houston Rockets on a Monday night in November.

If we learned one thing from Ol’ Dirty’s far-too-short life, it’s that we need to enjoy our athletes and entertainers while we have the chance. Watch LeBron. You’ll be a better basketball fan for it.

Someone Peed on the Sand Castle

I spent part of my Tuesday night watching the Heat against Golden State. I was at home watching frustrated as Miami came down with a case of confusion in the fourth quarter. The road trip had been going so well through three quarters: Miami was ahead 84 to 72, GSW was missing Andris Biedrins and Steph Curry and would eventually lose Kwame Brown to a shoulder injury. The Heat were warring with their big three; yep Dwyane Wade had returned and done so in an assertive alpha style.

But as I watched that fourth quarter, I quickly realized what was happening in Oakland. The real fans, full of piss and vinegar and then some, were grasping onto each Warrior 4th quarter point like it was one more symbol to stack up against the establishment and the Miami hype machine. And the fans got in sync with the players, with Monta Ellis and David Lee, Brandon Rush and Dorell Wright and of course they saved their strongest exultations for the man who thrived off them most: Nate Robinson. Together they chopped down what was once a 17-point Miami lead, made something out of nothing, they re-wrote the media’s yet-to-be filed stories and changed the course of fates.

Along the road to disgraceful defeat, I witnessed a hardening and lack of focus among the Heat players. Dwyane had been out a few games and in his absence, LeBron James was his most confidently controlled self, consumed of no doubts, just pure efficiency for all the fans—sons, daughters, grandma’s and grandpa’s, all y’all. Then big, bad Wade showed up and all of sudden the script is flipped? I didn’t watch the game’s entirety, but I watched the last quarter and overtime with the angst of a person who’s not comfortable with disruption. And there was the disruption, calmly, expeditiously, politely. Wade wants it, LeBron wants to give it and the result was a lead whittled away by scraps of lucky points.

Near the end of regulation, there were numerous loose balls, bouncing balls, missed plays, missed catches and temper tantrums (that’s you, Udonis Haslem) by both teams. Even with GSW’s mistakes, Miami was insistent on allowing them back in. Credit is due to Dorell Wright and Nate Rob who both hit huge threes, but I had a flashback ….

It was a flashback to the 2011 NBA Finals when LeBron faded into the background, too flustered, confused or uncomfortable to let his big light shine. The man wanted to be invisible. He stood at the top of the perimeter and refused to attack. He passed to Wade or Haslem or Bosh, but would then drift out beyond three-point range.

Earlier on Tuesday, I had defended LeBron with words from the heart. It’s between the ears and once he figures it out, it’s over, I argued. What’s there to figure out? He had 26pts, 11rebs, 7asts, shot well from the field and I don’t give a shit because when it mattered he reverted to passive LeBron like a fly to the light, sucking him away from his rightful role. This was different from his days in Cleveland when he’d penetrate for the shot and pass it to open shooters if/when the defense collapsed. This was LeBron removing himself from the conversation and, in my meager analysis on Tuesday night, doing it because Dwyane Wade was around.

For what it’s worth, the stats provide an objective witness. LeBron’s quarter-by-quarter line:

Quarter Min FG FGA FT FTA Rebs Asts Stls Tos BS Pts
1st

0:12:00

4

7

0

0

3

1

0

1

0

8

2nd

0:06:59

2

2

3

4

3

2

0

1

0

7

3rd

0:12:00

3

7

2

2

3

1

2

2

0

8

4th

0:06:34

0

0

1

2

0

0

0

0

0

1

I’m disappointed too.

Naturally, Golden State gritted out the win in overtime.

Where was that man with the world’s greatest game and what was he saving it for? I feel like he needs a combination of Ben Affleck’s character from Goodwill Hunting and Jamal Wallace from Finding Forrester. Between these two, there’s plenty of inspiration and realization to help a man even as complex as LeBron James figure things out. If they could crack Will Hunting’s code and get through the thick skull of a Sean Connery character, then the resolution to Bron’s mental issues are just a climactic scene away.

Aside from that rant, I’m still happy to walk out on my balcony and shout my prediction that the Miami Heat will be the 2012 NBA Champions. And that’s what makes it all the more frustrating, even in a Tuesday night road game in January, to see the game’s best extricate himself from the big moment. Miss a shot, throw the ball away, choke slam Nate Robinson … anything is better than the nothing I saw in Oakland.

You’re Never Really Alone

Game four on Tuesday was a glorious mess. I was stuck in a texting mood for the duration of the game and saw the themes and storylines that have taken time to develop rise up to the surface with faces grinning or grimacing (we see you, LeBron). If we weren’t sure who we were watching or what they stood for, we have an idea of it now. Of course, with a guaranteed two more games and potentially three more games, everyone—from Brian Cardinal to the great Dwyane Wade—can continue to work on their own personal definitions of who they are.

(Not to get all off topic here, but the Tyson Chandler/Eddy Curry connection is ignored far too often. These high school twin towers were going to paint the Chicago streets with Jordanesque parades. Instead, their careers, personalities and reputations rolled up on poetic fork in the road and without a glance in each other’s direction, they scampered on towards their destinies, amnesic to the other’s existence. I can’t help but wonder if either guy ever has daydreams or nightmares about what could’ve been.)  

Back to the present; above all else, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade, the warriors returned to the same battleground five years later, have imprinted their individual brands on these finals. Dirk’s been doing it all playoffs and has a great hype man every couple nights in Mike Breen. Wade forced a bumpy ride through his old stomping grounds (haunted by the shadow of Mike?), but the rest of the crew was down for theirs. Now in the finals it’s Dwyane’s turn.  (If Wade and Dirk got together during the 2008 Olympics or the 2010 World Championships and agreed to meet in the finals in 2011 as a fifth-year anniversary of their first finals matchup, would the righteous scribes be as indignant as they were about the Wade/Bron/Bosh meetings? Wouldn’t it be a more interesting story if the big German and the native Chicagoan had some kind of hidden code of honor that was settled every five years on the court?)

Through the first four games of the finals, Dirk’s putting up over 26 points/game, pulling 10 rebounds/game and even blocking a shot a night. Against one of the best defenses in the league, this shit is not easy. Other than being white, he’s not like Bird. Other than having the flu in the NBA Finals, he’s not like MJ. He’s fucking unique in more ways than just being a dominant German in the NBA. His game is his own, but his relentlessness is his overlooked trademark. From the opening to the end of every game, he attacks, catching the ball at the top or in the mid-post, throwing shot fakes, hesitations and stutters, fading away into an arc of perfection, occasionally driving, but always attacking with one technique or another. But even heroes fail. In game three, it was Dirk’s turn to run out of classic-making magic. In the last minute of what ended up being a two-point loss, Dirk threw the ball away and then missed one of those jumpers that he does not miss.

His former executioner has been busy too: a hair under 30 points/game, 8 rebounds, over a block and 58% shooting from the field—for a two guard. If there was a symbol of vitality for the 2011 NBA Finals, it would be called Dwyane Wade and it would run faster, jump higher and try harder than other symbol you could find. Dwyane Wade wants to win more than anyone else. Some guys in jerseys in Dallas might disagree, but to the impartial observer, Wade’s lifted his effort to a new place and it’s lonely there because no one else in these finals is capable of joining him. For all the “In His Face!” moments Wade has produced in these finals, he failed and fumbled at the most inopportune times on Tuesday night. Where Dirk turned the ball over and missed a contested jumper, Wade missed a potential game-tying free throw and fumbled away a pass in the last thirty seconds of game four.

All along we thought Wade and Bron were brothers in arms, but night after night, it’s being revealed that Wade and Dirk are more closely related while Bron and Wade are maybe just friends (what up homie?). This isn’t part of the pile-on-LeBron sentiment that’s so prevalent on the internets. LeBron will have his opportunities (beginning on Thursday night), but as of game four two players have stolen the spotlight and are dueling for a right to history or honor or some shit. While the world continues to fume and flame and troll about the Decision and the audacity of superstars banding together, Dirk’s hitting up Wade on his burner and consoling him about the missed free throw and fumbled pass.

It's Deeper than Balboa & Creed

I Guess Change is Good for Any of Us

There are all kinds of change, but the most lasting and legitimate kind of change comes over time. It comes from things like experience, trial and error, practice, habit, development and often criticism. For all the excitement of this year’s playoffs, two changes stand out:

The first change has been gradual, subtle but frequently targeted for criticism. LeBron James is an easy target and always will be in the same way that MJ was ripped before he won titles and the way Kobe has been attacked before and after winning titles. Losing, the Decision, the Global Icon, the commercials, quitting accusations, rumors of uncoachability, ridiculous free agent demands and mountains of attacks and assaults in print and spoken word—it’s all been thrown at LeBron and no matter what happens in the next few weeks, it will continue to pour down on him. In the process of amassing hate from all corners of the basketball-watching and consuming public, LeBron went through the growing pains apparently required of NBA stars: incremental playoff progress followed by inevitable defeat by the league’s senior gatekeepers. In Cleveland, Bron lost to a veteran Pistons squad, Tim Duncan’s Spurs in a 4-0 Finals sweep, the KG-led Celtics (twice), and somehow to a hot-shooting Orlando Magic squad. After all those playoff losses and criticisms, he’s finally getting after it with the kind of intensity we’ve always associated with Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. In the fourth quarter on Tuesday night, with the game on the line, he put the clamps on Derrick Rose. LeBron was the best player on both sides of the court and was rewarded for his efforts with a 3-1 series lead.

A few years ago LeBron commented, “I don’t think I have an instinct like Kobe, where I just want to kill everybody.” Homicide aside, we saw the comments and took note. Kobe busied himself with back-to-back titles and three straight finals appearances while LeBron continued to get bounced out of the Eastern Conference playoffs. It’d be beyond naiveté to ignore the southern migration and the Wade/Bosh upgrades. Bron is surrounded by the best #2 and 3 options in the league. With those two stars flanking him, he’s managed to improve his overall game. He’s been named to all-defensive teams in the past, but we haven’t seen anything like the lockdown job he put on Rose last night or the dive-for-the-ball intensity he showed in the late fourth. Maybe it’s the support of Wade and Bosh or maybe it’s the relief they provide, but this LeBron is different. He’s playing with an energy usually reserved for the lesser-talented players of the world and he somehow has an endless supply of it. His post-play and post-game celebrations are indicative of someone who’s giving a damn—whether his outburst are aimed at critics, opponents or history doesn’t matter much. Focus and commitment are questions of his northern past.

The other change born of these playoffs: the stoic evolution of Dirk Nowitzki—a few weeks shy of 33 years old. The Larry Bird comparisons are inaccurate, but Dirk’s likely been the MVP of these playoffs. He’s playing chess to the defenders’ checkers. He’s cancelling out the best defenders on every team and doing it with a style that’s foreign to the NBA game in more ways than just being a German import. He’s always been an efficient scorer and in his career the Mavs are 6-1 in playoff games where he scores over 40 points. Like LeBron, Dirk’s has his own basketball bouncing skeletons in the closet. It’s taken a long four years to cleanse himself of the stain laid on him by Stephen Jackson and the Warriors in the 2007 opening round playoff upset, but he’s returned to MVP form and then had the audacity to surpass it with something that appears to be a casual effort which isn’t to say he’s not trying, but that everything is somehow easier. Like James, any questions of Dirk’s toughness or heart have been silenced by his virtuosic performance in these playoffs.  

With LeBron and Dirk, there’s been nothing disingenuous about their change. There’s no re-definition or worshiping false idols. They still carry the parts and pieces we’ve questioned over the years, but they’ve layered on so much more that we have to squint to see the old traces and even then, our eyesight’s still not strong enough.

Return to Canadian Stylings

I watched game three of the Eastern Conference Finals last night from the comforts and smoky hospitality of the Mandalay Bay Sports Book. Most games I watch are from the quiet and familiarity of my apartment and couch. Being surrounded by a hundred or so obnoxious gamblers watching a basketball game was refreshing. I’m usually chided for screaming at the TV, but here I was among the likeminded; united by a mix of basketball and money.

It was in that setting that I took in the gritty play of celebrities in South Beach. At a first thought, it’s not natural to associate defense and battling with the quartet of LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Derrick Rose. You see Bron and Wade specifically with their little cardigans and v-necks in the post-game press conferences, but fortunately fashion tastes don’t preclude on-court efforts. We knew it would be a defensive series so it’s no shock to see the 48-minute grind bleeding into every half court possession and leading to momentum-driving Miami fast breaks that cracked the Bulls backs just like they did Boston’s.

For a game and series that leans closer to the ethos of Joakim Noah, it was a surprise to see Chris Bosh spit in the collective faces of his critics. Noah was frustrated and out of rhythm. He committed fouls (questionable or not), stewed on the bench and failed to provide the right kind of energy that the Bulls expect and need from him. Bosh, by contrast, delivered on fades, jumpers, spins and dunks and while his Gasolian screams after fouls or dunks continue to feel artificial or at least misplaced (the screams are aimed more at the critics than his opponents), he was the Heat’s most productive and consistent player in game three. With Bosh as the go-to, any questions about the mythic tug of war between Bron and Wade are questions that didn’t exist on this Sunday.

Lost in Bosh’s Raptor throwback was the one of the better statistical games we’ve seen from Boozer in these playoffs. He went for 27 and 17, but failed to hit any field goals in a fourth quarter where the Bulls were outscored by eight.

The common theme this season between Bosh and Boozer has been their inabilities to fit in to which I can only imagine must be confusing. They’ve both been criticized for failing to replicate their previous successes which is unfair and rarely possible given the current circumstances. When they both arrived in full on Sunday night, it was Bosh who received the greater support while Boozer was left trying to carry Chicago in a role all-too-familiar to Rose.

For Bosh to make 34 points against the league’s best defense look so easy reconfirms the potential of this Miami team. His identity isn’t the same as it was in Toronto and it never will be again, but games like tonight are reminders of the versatility of his game and the value of a skilled seven footer—even if he is a little on the soft side. Boozer’s productivity opposite of Rose’s struggles last night reinforced a suspicion I have that Boozer and Rose suffer from compatibility issues. The injuries and lack of on-court time between the two (or three if you consider Noah’s injuries earlier this year) are well known, but until Rose and Boozer are able to co-exist as scorers, the Bulls will have trouble scoring enough points to win in this series.

The Heat, with its three elite scorers combined with Bron’s and Wade’s versatility, doesn’t share these same problems. Their problems consist of things like who stole Mike Miller’s basketball soul, how can they get his soul back and how can they keep Jamaal Magloire out of the arena.

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