In a gesture that could only pass for defiance in a culture as soft as ours, LeBron James refused to apologize to Kendrick Perkins.
This just after he got his ass kicked by the Orlando Magic, a team otherwise ready to implode.
Oops, my bad. LeBron didn’t lose to the Magic. It is, after all, a team game — although the longer you listen to James, the easier it is to lose sight of such an arcane notion. The stat line from Wednesday’s encounter between the Heat and the Magic gives James even more of what he already has in abundance: plausible deniability. Sure, he had a lousy shooting night, 5-of-15. But he also had a double-double (17 points, 10 assists) to go with his six rebounds and three steals.
And a loss. Sure, it’s only one night in February. More revealing, however, is that by Thursday morning the loss was no longer the news. Rather, like most things NBA, it was all about LeBron, who was responding to Kendrick Perkins’ response to LeBron’s tweet about Blake Griffin’s dunk over Perkins last month.
"I would never apologize about anything like that when I’m connecting with my fans," said James.
That’s an interesting way to put it, especially since, in LeBron’s case, "connecting with my fans" is merely another form of marketing.
Perhaps you consider that cynical or presumptuous. If so, allow me to continue with my presumptions. Let me tell you, again, what LBJ (another acronym offered without irony or any deference to the past) really needs. It’s not connecting with his fans. It’s a title. He needs one more than any athlete I know.
Still, to consider his remarks after the Magic loss is to think the last couple of years taught him nothing. Once again, he was trying to say the right thing. He was trying to sound like a tough guy. What? Apologize to Kendrick Perkins? Hell no. But he came off as persecuted.
Now you show me a ballplayer who talks about being persecuted, I’ll show you a guy who wants to be a victim. Being picked on is an excuse. It’s another form of plausible deniability.
"You could be watching cartoons with your kids and you don’t like it, you say, ‘Blame it on LeBron.’ If you go to the grocery store and they don’t have the milk that you like, you just say, ‘It’s LeBron’s fault,’" he said.
To which I say: If it sounds like whining, it is.
In a matter of hours, #ThingsBlamedOnLebron was trending on Twitter. Of course.
"You don’t see Kobe tweeting," Perkins had told Yahoo’s Marc Spears. "You don’t see Michael Jordan tweeting. If you’re an elite player, plays like (Griffin’s) don’t excite you . . . guys who are playing for the right reasons, who are trying to win championships, are not worrying about one play."
It was Kendrick’s way of calling James unprofessional, or worse, dismissing him as a fan, another guy oohing, aahing and tweeting over a dunk.
The highlight reel euphoria obscured a couple of facts. First, Perkins hit Griffin hard and high. Second, Griffin had to literally throw the ball in the basket, a play that perhaps only he could make. In other words, all things considered, Perkins played pretty good help defense.
Then again, help defense is a team concept. It’s a subtlety lost on giants of the tweeting classes.
Perkins was willing to risk humiliation to make the proper basketball play. I don’t believe James would risk as much. He’s a Nike commercial. He always looks cool. Just the same, it’s worth reminding you he’s proclaimed himself a King, though he has no title.
Now, as I’ve recently returned from the Super Bowl, where predictions are the coin of the realm, let me offer another.
The Heat are not what they should be, but the state of the Eastern Conference is a woeful one. Miami will come out of the East to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals.
The crew from OKC will be cast as the anti-Heat, which is to say, caring less about being loved and marketed than about winning.