As my prophetic brother, Just Ross, stated this past few NBA filled days: “Not only is LeBron single handedly keeping this one guy alive in my fantasy league, but he is going to own the league this season.” Bold words about a man who fell apart so completely last June.
As we saw in the miniscule preseason, LeBron looks hungry for a title and ready to work for it for the first time in his career. His mid-range turnaround jumper has yet to miss…period…and he is going to the basket with a renewed ferocity. All of this serves, naturally, to remind us of the single most burning question hanging over this NBA season: Just what in the hell happened to LeBron last June?
The best paragraph I have found explaining his disappearence is from Scott Raab’s brilliant book The Whore of Akron – “Was it easy, LeBron?…I almost feel bad for you, son. You’re not a grown man. You’re a kid and you’re afraid. What are you so afraid of LeBron, the losing or the winning? Do you finally understand that it’s not easy? That it’s not meant to be easy. Hard is the only thing that makes it mean anything, the only thing that makes winning worth the pain of trying, the only thing that makes living and dying worth the suffering.”
Amidst Raab’s searing, vitriol (and there is a lot of it) he just might truly cut to the hurt of what made LeBron fall apart: fear. In Cleveland he feared never winning a Championship so he went to Miami where it would seemingly be easier. It was not. Now, this season, he may finally have steeled himself to this fact. Now, this season, LeBron may finally be ready to get over the heap and climb to the top of the mountain.
In the first three games of the season he has appeared to be ready (submitting an astounding array of dunks and ridiculous D) as his averages of 32.7ppg / 7.3 rpg and 6.0 apg seem to suggest. Whether or not LeBron can sustain these averages is ultimately irrelevant: what is important is how hard he is playing. For the first time in a couple of years he seems to be enjoying playing basketball again. He does not care anymore what people think. He wants his title. He is more than willing to go for broke at this point because he has nothing to lose.
As a team the Heat look deeper and much better primed for a title run: the rookies are playing well (Norris Cole in particular is adding a new dimension to the bench) and they came out on Christmas Day wanting to put a hurting on Dallas in their own building. All they accomplished was running them clean off the floor. No longer will Jason Kidd or Jason Terry be able to hold LeBron away from the hoop. He is a man, on a team, with a mission. They have gelled well and alpha dog issues seem to be behind them: Wade hit the game winner against Charlotte. In the first three games of the season they have gone a long way towards their goal. The only goal that matters in this shortened season: the NBA title.
PS: Christmas was truly a magical day in which I got to see the following:
1) Miami kill Dallas – Behind LeBron’s 37 points and a great overall team effort on D.
2) Kobe Bryant kill the Lakers in crunch time – Not only did he turn the ball over (in brutal fashion) but DRose hit the game winner over him and Derek Fisher. At this point I had to check to ensure I was not still dreaming. Santa read my letter ladies and gentlemen, and he answered big time.
3) Chris Paul taking over a game – Paul decided in the last few minutes of that game that he was just going to put it out of reach, then, in true Superstar fashion: he did.