The birth and death of King James

I’ve been strangely silent throughout this NBA Playoff racket, a series of games that seemed to have lasted seventeen months, two weeks and three days. So why am I saying anything at all?

Well, first of all, I’m happy for the Spurs.

That’s right. I hate the Spurs. Still, I respect them. I realize that they have great players, selfless players that do everything possible to win, every day, all the time. I love the idea that they have stuck together, that they have bonded unlike any other professional team, with a consistent coach and a consistent leader. I love the team’s superb eye for international talent; how they can draft a random foreign nobody and let him develop on his own, supported by the greatest team players ever to grace the court.

I hate them for this reason, but I respect them as well. Nobody should be that good. Nobody should be that boring, that foul happy, that ingratiating to the refs and opposing fans, yet still be as effective and efficient as possible. They have a smugness that they’ve earned, so they wear it well. It’s too easy to hate them, I know. But we all hate them just the same.

In the late 80s, as a blossoming Chicago Bulls fan, I hated the Pistons in much the same way. They were unbeatable. They won their own way. I now look back and respect many of the players from that team – Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars – all players that I’d love to have on my team today. That’s this Spurs team. They methodically grind down their opponents and systematically create a hostile environment. They are too good. And they need to be vanquished.

Those Pistons teams were finally vanquished by Michael Jordan, our league’s Lord and Savior, the one man that brought ratings to highs unheard of today. This year, we had our own Michael Jordan – the young upstart ready to break through the old guard and make his name known. LeBron James. The new Lord, the King, the high-flying superstar ready to make the leap.

He didn’t, though. He fizzled, a star burned out before he was ready. Much like Michael Jordan did. Two years in a row, Jordan slammed into a wall of Pistons and two years in a row left defeated. People questioned his heart, his talent, his ability to win the big one.

Eventually he did. Six times. That’s where LeBron is right now – he’s slamming into his own barriers. Some say he was lucky to get past the Pistons this year. I think that’s partly true – the Pistons are not what they used to be, and LeBron showed us what he can do.

But when you head into a series with just your own back to depend on, with a lower-tier cast filled with the too-young and too-slow, you risk looking horrible regardless of what you could do otherwise. LeBron had a horrible series. Hell, everyone had a horrible series. These Finals were dreadful to watch. No one could hit a shot to save his life. And it became one of the lowest rated Finals ever.

So with that, LeBron has slammed into the next wall. He’s discovered what it’s like to face a Western Conference team in a seven game series. He was swept by a compact winning machine, a team that wastes no movement and no time in ruining its opponents and sending them back to their hometown.

The Spurs are champions for a reason. But don’t think we’ve heard the last of LeBron. Let’s just hope that, at this time next year, we have a more balanced set of conferences, a faster style of basketball, a couple of teams that people actually want to see and some storylines that pan out as actually exciting.

Because as much as I love this game, the last three series of the playoffs were like pulling teeth.

This was lovingly handwritten on June 15th, 2007