|LeBron James last big star in NBA playoffs|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 10 May 2007 17:38|
Another burns brightly.
All-Star forward LeBron James might be the only player still on the floor this postseason able to deliver the spectacular. He's surely the only one who can make the most casual hoops fan delay mowing the backyard to spend a glorious spring afternoon glued to the TV.
The spotlight is fixed on James, and he and the Cleveland Cavaliers are center stage.
So, what happened to all those one-name wonders? Kobe didn't get enough help from the Lakers. Shaq and D-Wade, the defending champions, got buried by the Bulls on South Beach. Melo and A.I. need more time together. T-Mac, even with Yao alongside, busted in round one - again - and Dirk, this season's likely MVP, got dunked.
Rising stars Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard were sent home, too.
Of the elite members from the famed draft class of 2003, James is flying solo in the 2007 postseason.
``I never thought about it like that,'' the 22-year-old James said. ``I've got to hold down the fort, I guess.''
Commissioner David Stern, aka fan No. 1, never publicly would admit it, but there might be a small part of the commish rooting for the Cavaliers to make a deep title run. After all, ratings mean as much as rebounds this time of year.
On a playoff stopover in Quicken Loans Arena this week, Stern was asked if having only one iconic superstar around is bad for business.
``You know,'' Stern said after a long pause. ``It's a good question. I don't know.''
Then, as if pitching a campaign to a room full of advertising executives, he presented an argument why the playoffs are still worth watching.
``Hey, everybody, get to know Carlos Boozer,'' Stern said, sweeping his hand across his chest for effect. ``And how do you like Baron Davis? Iconic superstar? I think of the entire Detroit team, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, Steve Nash and Shawn Marion. We've got a lot of unheralded superstars that are playing in this league.
``So either the old stars will dominate or the new stars will be revealed, it's OK either way.''
Maybe. But as Stern experienced last summer in China, Duncan, Nash and the rest don't share James' mass appeal.
After making a promotional appearance for Coca-Cola with James, Stern watched in awe as hundreds of Chinese teenagers chased the charter bus carrying Akron, Ohio's most famous citizen and the U.S. Olympic team.
In Stern's eyes, James has become a worldwide ambassador for the league, perhaps bigger than Michael Jordan in his prime.
``It couldn't be better than he does it,'' Stern said. ``He's gracious. He's patient. He has a sort of a sense about him that's compelling on a global scale, and that's why so many companies are anxious to do business with him.''
But the companies don't come knocking, the endorsement deals don't pile up and the catchy Nike commercials don't get filmed without basketball success first. And, in his fourth season, James could be on the verge of taking the Cavaliers further in the playoffs than they've been before.
Cleveland never has won a title, never has even been to the finals. Since joining the league in 1970, the Cavs have made only two appearances in the conference finals, losing to Boston in 1976 and Chicago in 1992.
James' second trip to the playoffs has brought out his best. He averaged 28 points, 7.7 rebounds and 8.2 assists in his first six games this postseason. Oscar Robertson is the only player to post those numbers for an entire postseason, doing it three times from 1962-64.
Statistics, though, don't fully explain the contrast between the James of 2007 and the one of a year ago. He always has been willing to share the ball, but he's more confident now giving it up in key moments to teammates he hasn't continually trusted.
``And the good part,'' says TNT analyst Doug Collins, ``is that his teammates are delivering.''
Collins was Jordan's coach in Chicago from 1986-89, at approximately the same stage of Jordan's career. He remembers the difficult times early on for Jordan, who had little help on some bad teams.
Collins sees many similarities between Jordan and James, but the most revered No. 23 and his heir apparent aren't mirror images.
``They have different personalities,'' he said. ``Michael was a guy who is going to score, he's going to throw up that huge game and he's going to take the last shot. And I always felt LeBron was more of a guy that's probably as happy making the pass as he was taking the shot.
``Michael had more of that closer's mentality.''
It's taken a little longer, but James seems to be forming his own killer instinct, something his toughest critics have argued has been missing from his unspoiled game. In the closing minutes of Game 2 against the Nets, James went to the sideline during a timeout, looked coach Mike Brown in the eye and demanded the basketball.
It wasn't the first time he had done so. What was different, though, was the intensity of his request.
``It was probably his most aggressive look,'' Brown said. ``I had no choice.''
Collins would get the same evil eye from Jordan, who didn't win the first of his six NBA titles until his seventh season.
``I'm seeing a lot of growth in LeBron,'' Collins said. ``The next big step for him is going to be the attention to the little details that will really separate him, the studying of the opponent. That's one thing Michael was genius at. And, defensively, people forget Michael may have been the best defender ever at his position.
``He would take the other team's premier perimeter player right out of the game. I think LeBron has that kind of ability, and with a defensive coach who will keep him working on that, I think you're going to eventually see that.''
Until that day arrives, James undoubtedly will make mistakes. He'll miss big shots, lose important games and there will be times when we're reminded that, despite being a four-year veteran, he's younger than 75 percent of the league's rookies.
One of those moments happened the other night following Cleveland's victory in Game 2. As James was explaining Brown's offensive philosophy, he got tongue tied and tripped badly over his words.
``Sorry,'' James said sheepishly. ``I didn't go to college.''