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Amid playoff thrills, one story line is King
As he pursues ring No. 5, Kobe Bryant is averaging more than 30 points and almost 10 assists against the Suns and continues to give credence to the once-preposterous suggestion that he is Michael Jordan’s worthy heir.
Rajon Rondo, meanwhile, has the hoops world wondering if he isn’t in fact the best point guard in the NBA, better than Nash, Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
The NBA’s Final Four has been nothing short of spectacular.
And yet… it all feels somehow immaterial to the Big Story. It’s as if four tenacious saber-toothed tigers are fighting over the carcass of a woolly mammoth oblivious to the Tyrannosaurus rex looming above them, intent on eating everything below.
The T-Rex of course, is LeBron James. And no matter what happens in these hugely compelling NBA playoffs – from which LeBron crashed out two weeks ago – the impact on the league will be a small, momentary ripple compared to the historic tsunami to be unleashed by LeBron’s pending decision.
The events of the next few weeks will determine this year’s NBA champion. The Event set to occur in LeBron’s heart and mind could determine the next five, seven, 10 NBA championships. (Count me among those who ardently believe adding LeBron to the current Bulls roster would make them a lock title team with a legit shot at eclipsing the ’95-96 Bulls’ 72 regular-season wins.)
Kobe Bryant is averaging more than 30 points and almost 10 assists against the Phoenix Suns, but his heroics are being overshadowed by LeBron Mania.
How important is the winner of this year’s NBA title as opposed to the balance of power shifting in the league for the next decade?
The NBA. Where Amazing Happens. Starting July 1.
While Kobe drains absurdly deep threes and Superman is literally knocking out people tugging at his cape, the world watches the ticker for any hint of where LeBron might land.
If a three falls on the hardwood and it doesn’t involve LeBron James, did it happen?
Even as the Celtics were completing their stunning six-game victory over the Cavs, Boston fans still made it all about LeBron, chanting “New York Knicks!” as he shot free throws. The chorus and the prospect it suggested must have been as thrilling for Knicks fans as it was chilling for long-suffering Cleveland fans.
In the immediate aftermath of the Cavaliers’ flameout came a report that Coach Mike Brown had been fired. Though he vigorously denied the report, team owner Dan Gilbert conspicuously refused to offer Brown anything that could be construed as a lifeline. (This would not be a repeat of the scene in “All the President’s Men,” in which Ben Bradlee shouldered the blame for J. Edgar Hoover’s lifetime appointment because he prematurely reported the FBI chief would be fired and President Lyndon Johnson wanted to spite him.)
Brown’s fate was sealed. His only hope for a stay of execution was a word from the King, granting clemency. And it obviously never came.
The Cleveland offseason came sooner than expected and it forced Gilbert to get a jump on the team’s top 10 goals for the summer: retaining LeBron. Had Gilbert believed keeping Brown, the 2009 Coach of the Year, would have increased the chances of keeping LeBron by so much as one percent, Brown would still be the coach of the Cavaliers.
And Cleveland isn’t the only city where coaching accommodations are allegedly being made to lure LeBron.
In Chicago, where Vinny Del Negro was canned after consecutive 41-41 seasons, the rumor mill has been working around the clock.
First came a delicious story that hoop eminence grise William Wesley — Worldwide Wes — was brokering a deal that would bring Kentucky coach John Calipari and LeBron to Chicago as a package deal. This story was shot down pretty quickly, though with former Memphis star Derrick Rose in Chicago and the prospect of Calipari coaching where you’re actually allowed to pay the players, it did make a lot of sense.
Next up came the Phil Jackson trial balloon.
The Zen Master would come back to Chicago, where he would join LeBron and complete his triple crown, coaching arguably the three greatest players of all time to multiple titles. But the idea of Phil leaving his comfy chair and his SoCal life for the Windy City seems absurdly farfetched.
Not that any rumor is too farfetched to gain traction if it can be said to have taken place within the far-reaching borders of LeBron World. Thus the sordid innuendo that the Cavs’ season was torpedoed by Delonte West’s reported dalliance with LeBron’s mom Gloria becomes instant water cooler gospel.
People were clearly desperate to explain how the best-record-in-the-league Cavs lost to the geriatric Celtics. There was even one rumor suggesting that the younger sister of LeBron’s teammate Anthony Parker was sleeping with Celtics reserve Shelden Williams. Oh, that’s right, Candace Parker is married to Williams.
As the truths and fictions flew indiscriminately, it was sometimes hard to believe even the well-verified stories. Could an NBA owner really have been fined $100,000 for allowing that he’d like LeBron to play for his team? Yup.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined six figures for having the audacity to read out loud the latest headline of No (Spit) Weekly: We’d love to have LeBron James. That’s right, Cuban was fined 100 large for acknowledging what every owner, GM and fan in the NBA is feeling. Gee, it sure would be nice to have two-time, soon-to-be three-time and four-time and five-time MVP LeBron James on our team.
And in case anyone was wondering if there is any Equal Protection Clause in David Stern’s Constitution, Steve Kerr was fined 10K for the same offense.
Now comes word that Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh will join LeBron in a Knights of the Roundball Round Table to discuss nothing less than the future of the NBA. (Maybe Collusion Avenue can be a two-way street.)
When this League of Extraordinary Gentlemen gets together, someone might have to mute the TV.
Because, thankfully, someone forgot to tell the Lakers, Suns, Celtics and Magic that their games don’t matter.
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