FreeDarko's Bethlehem Shoals, a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse and co-author of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History (visit the FreeDarko store, too!), is keeping a game-by-game diary of the Heat's season — the one you're pretending not to care about.
Results: Heat 96, Hornets 84
Heading into the third last night against New Orleans, LeBron James had been Björk-quiet. That's not quite right: James is such an imposing physical presence that, even when he's only touching the ball in passing, or sprinting down the floor to little effect, he's impossible to ignore. But Dwyane Wade had been positively orgasmic, with 20 points in the second quarter — we need to start acknowledging the role his preseason absence, and lingering injury early on, may have played in dampening the "holy shit" quotient with this team. Takin' turns, like they promised. Still, the Hornets hung tough, staying very much in the game despite relying on little more than one of David West's increasingly intermittent good performances.
You just knew, though, that LeBron would happen at some point. And that he did. The third belonged to James, and even if he didn't manage Wade's gaudy tally — he went for only 13 in the quarter — or pull off much in the way of point-forward orchestration, LeBron coming 'round was less an act of heroism and more the expected payoff for bringing together James and Wade (some day, Bosh, maybe?) And yet the very way that Bron stepped in and delivered the final judgment was so frightening, so theatrical, that it bent the arc of the game itself. Whether this was the new Heat plan or whether he just wasn't feeling it before, James waited. And then, inevitably, this happened:
Craggs describes this shot as (Larry Bird + Kobe + Pistol Pete) / 0.
I read Harlan Ellison's The Deathbird when I was 11, and I have no idea what the lyrics to Neil Young's "Danger Bird" mean. Still, I feel confident that these two works of art — if nothing else, in title and atmosphere — get right at how LeBron James fits into this team. And maybe, because I'm sleep-deprived and can't handle this slippery slope, the entire league. James is basketball eschatology, and not the Christian kind, where the end of the world is cause for a pizza party. Sooner or later, he will exact his judgment, and from that point on, the game is more or less in ruins. He glows, but only for those who bought season tickets a long time ago, and while he glows, it's out of a love for the sport that isn't about sweating with mere mortals. It's sickening, and strange, and not the stuff of the charismatic man-child he was in Cleveland. But here we are.
If you like sports, and not sci-fi, dad-rawk, or religion, I guess this makes him the closer, and Wade the fireballer. Except the order isn't quite right, and sometimes James has his say before Wade. Still, the effect is the same. It is very hard for a team to claw their way back into a game once LeBron has pissed all over it from way up in the middle of the air. Wade, great as he is, just takes over games. When LeBron does his thing — as we saw most brilliantly against Detroit in 2007, or in Game 3 of the 2010 Celtics series that proved what a crappy jerk he is — everyone is left shell-shocked.
Is this dick-riding? Maybe, but it's also truth. As the Heat learn their hierarchy, James isn't emerging as the point guard we never knew. Instead, he's ultimate judgment, distilled and bottled and kept on the shelf for certain occasions. The score may stay close after LeBron's time, but that game is as good as over.
Bethlehem Shoals is a founding member of FreeDarko.com and a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse. You can buy The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History and lots of other stuff at the FreeDarko store.