Saturday night, Game 6 of a bruising, controversial Eastern Finals. LeBron James invades the airspace of the 7'2" USS Hibbert.
An acrobatic confrontation worthy of the old gimmick sport "Slam Ball" plays out at rim level, well off the floor.
LeBron and Hibbert collide violently.
Then LeBron ran. Ran from one end of the court to the other. Amazed, astounded, hurt, and truly shocked that HE, "The King" was not just denied a trip to the free throw line.
But it was on him!
And so he ran. Fitting.
Ran so far, I could almost hear Flock of Seagulls in the background.
Ran like a little boy to his momma after somebody on the playground called him a hurtful name.
Ran like he was leaving Cleveland again, by foot.
Another defining moment for James, that he'll never fully live down. Like disappearing (literally) as the Celtics closed out his last game as a Cavalier in Boston. Fake coughing with Wade in the tunnel to mock Dirk's reported illness. Confiscating the summer camp poster-dunk video. Wearing his own "LBJ MVP" t-shirt.
"Not one… not two… not three…."
These are all things that nobody ever forgets about a guy so good, nothing else should matter. Somehow, he makes himself small, at every possible defining moment.
Hey, it was maybe (probably) a bad call. Looked like Hibbert did more than just say straight up. But seriously, dude? You are unaware of the metric ton of touch fouls YOU get on the other end?
One call. On one play. In a game that was all but over anyway.
He's the best basketball player in the league by a Secretariat-at-the-Belmont margin. Yet he still is one of the NBA's worst floppers. It's hardly what inspires sports fans.
Michael Jordan inspired. It was why when he was winning 6 NBA titles, TV ratings were at an all time high. MJ had a competitive magnetism that didn't let you blink sitting at home, lest you miss something.
LeBron makes you roll your eyes.
When Jordan would get mad, you could stare into his face and see a burning fire pit of a thousand suns. "Holy shit. Jordan. Is. PISSED!" Then you sat back and watched magic unfold.
And he didn't need to flop, whine, or run around in protest to make it happen.
When LeBron gets mad, it just makes you say: "Oh, wow. He's really trying now."
All of that said, the Heat will still probably win another title, and it won't make me lose any sleep. I am no longer emotionally invested in seeing LeBron stymied from having his summer parade.
He's a great player, and he'll win more than 1 title. (My estimate: 4. Two with Miami, two later on with the Lakers. More on that to come…)
If somehow the Heat wilt between now and the end of June, I'll muster a hearty chortle, but that's about it. If they don't, then LeBron's "punishment" is that he'll always be who he is.
A superstar athlete, whose only hard core fans still ride a yellow bus to school.