INDIANAPOLIS – Nothing is missing from LeBron James’ heart. The void is in his head. It’s understandable: He’s like a teenager who just doesn’t want to do his homework. He always manages to get A’s, anyway.
But you cannot Spring Break your way to greatness. You cannot ask someone else to carry you into history. You cannot coast downhill past Michael Jordan. That was the logical flaw in The Decision all along.
The Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat, 94-75, on Thursday to take a 2-1 series lead. The Heat seem to be crumbling. They’re without Chris Bosh, who’s hurt. They’re without Dwyane Wade, at least the old great one. His body is breaking down.
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And the talk will be how bad Wade was Thursday. He was awful. But the issue is this: The Heat have been without LeBron James, too.
If you want to know what I’m talking about, go to youtube and search LeBron James and 48 points and Detroit. Take a look at that LeBron James, the one who went nuts on the Pistons in a double-overtime win to give Cleveland a 3-2 lead in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals.
“LeBron’s trying to take this game over,” an analyst said on TV.
And this: “This is unbelievable. This is Jordan-esque.”
Just watch the highlights, and ask yourself: Is that the same James who is playing now? That one dominated the game, stepped back to get a better running start for the basket.
In the third quarter Thursday, his team cleared out to the other side of the court, and it was James vs. George Hill, one-on-one. That’s 6-foot-8, 260-pound James vs. 6-3, 190 Hill. LeBron dribbled a few times, drew the double team, then passed off.
The Cleveland James would not have let Indiana roll over him, the way the Pacers did Thursday. No way. James single-handedly took a lousy Cleveland team to the NBA Finals.
And despite any talk you’ll hear about this Pacers team, they are not special. The old James could have won that game Thursday night. He would have.
James can still win this series all by himself. It’s in him. Don’t doubt that. But whatever plan he had with The Decision? That plan is dead now. Gone.
There will be no hand-holding to any title, not this year or ever. James is going to have to do it in nearly the same way he was trying to do it in Cleveland, before he decided it was just too hard.
But THAT James is still inside him. He is simply on vacation, which was his whole idea: Go to South Beach with your friends, team up with Wade and Bosh and watch the championships pile up.
Is it really so hard to believe that a young, naive man would make that decision?
Jordan saw how absurd it was from the beginning. So did Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. They all said that they never would have done what James did.
So everyone asks now why James doesn’t take over at the end of games. What is missing from his heart?
It’s the same thing that was missing from John Elway’s heart when critics always asked that question about him before he won the Super Bowl. Same thing missing from Phil Mickelson’s heart. From Andre Agassi’s.
What people forget is that James used to always demand that the game come to him.
In Cleveland, he did give up in his last year, the series against Boston. And it was basically a kid saying “This is just too hard. I want to have fun.” No one insisted on anything different, not that he would have listened, anyway.
Wade was a disaster Thursday, going 2-for-13 for five points. He was sluggish.
But he has given everything of himself through the years. He’s just worn out. Four years ago, before the Beijing Olympics, people wondered if his knees were already done. And he came back, flew high and pleaded for a spot on the Olympic team.
He has had a strange season, filled with iffy behavior. He was bickering with coach Eric Spoelstra on the sideline Thursday. After Game 2, he complained that Indiana was celebrating too much.
In the Knicks series, he threw Mike Bibby’s shoe to the sideline. Late in the regular season, he shoved Rip Hamilton because he was upset about not getting a call.
What’s wrong with Wade? He has thrown around his body in the NBA for longer than a body can be thrown around. (Are you watching, Derrick Rose/Chicago Bulls fans?). You play the way Wade plays, and your greatness is shortened.
“Yeah, made history tonight,” he said after being told that, for the first time, he went a half in a playoff game without scoring.
He must feel betrayed by his body now. The decline came quicker than expected, so early in his run with James. Wade is never going to be Wade again. Not for long, long stretches, anyway.
But his drop comes with the honor of having fought so hard for so long. What about James’ drop?
Vacation time is up, LeBron. With great talent comes great demands.
He won his third MVP this year, at his best when Wade was out, hurt. The Heat went 13-1 in games that Wade was out and James played.
James took over out of necessity. Late in the third quarter Thursday, it looked like he decided to do it again. The Heat trailed by eight, and James was running for a fastbreak. Indiana’s Danny Granger grabbed his jersey from behind, and James raised his elbow to get Granger off of him.
Granger stepped up to James, angrily, and was called for a technical.
In the next 42.4 seconds, James missed a free throw, then a 3-pointer, then a jumper. And that was it for him. He supposedly was joking around afterward.
We need to see the three-time MVP James now. He can do it. The killer is there, inside James. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
Time to get back to work. There are no short cuts, not even for a King.