LeBron James’ favorite movie is Gladiator. He has one of Maximus’ most famous lines tattooed on his biceps—“What we do in life echoes in eternity”—and even named one of his sons “Bryce Maximus.” So it would be entirely appropriate, following one of his monster playoff games, like, say, last night, if he launched the ball into press row, leapt to the top of the scorer’s table and bellowed “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” Because, quite honestly, it’s what we deserve.
Following a Game 4 home loss in which he posted a line of 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists—and was criticized for being “too passive”—he bore the brunt of the blame. Draymond Green, who’d later be suspended for a smack to the King’s crown jewels, reportedly called him a “b----.” And the media, both national and social, did not hesitate to pile on. Mychal Thompson, former Showtime Laker and Klay’s pops, said straight-up that LeBron couldn’t have handled the ‘80s NBA. And professional troll and human handbag Skip Bayless went so far as to say this:
LeBron owes his team tonight's game.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 13, 2016
So, Game 5. Potential closeout game. Oracle Arena, where the Warriors were 39-2 this season and 11-1 in the playoffs. LeBron comes out hot, and the Champagne never even had to be chilled. He posts a line of 41 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. The complete list of players who have posted a line like that in an NBA Finals game since 1984? LeBron James. That’s the list. His 32.4 ppg average in potential closeout games is the highest in NBA history. Yes, even higher than Michael Jordan’s. Are you not entertained?
James did everything we ask of him, and still we ask for more.
There will, of course, be naysayers. Green was out, they’ll say. Kyrie Irving, who also scored 41, carried the team late. Which he did, scoring 10 straight fourth quarter points in less than two minutes to put the game away. All James did was make sure there was going to be a game to put away at all. He set the tone early with two first quarter threes, stepping up when the Warriors invited him to shoot. He outrebounded Love (admittedly, not that difficult) and out-assisted Irving. He had a chasedown block on Steph Curry and dunks in traffic. He scored the Cavaliers’ final seven points of the first half and already had 28 points when Andrew Bogut went down with a potential season-ending (and series-shifting?) knee injury early in the third.
James did everything we ask of him, and still we ask for more. He turns in a historic performance in a closeout game on the road against the winningest team of all-time, and even recaps of that can’t help but allude to failures to come. Not to call out anyone in particular, but here’s Jerry Brewer in an otherwise complimentary column in the Washington Post (sad!):
James might need more 41-16-7 efforts to stay in this series. His tendency to dominate and then retreat into passivity cannot happen. If Green returns in Game 6 and James is neutralized, then Green gets the last laugh—and the suggestions that James is soft will return.
Where do these suggestions come from and why do they keep coming back? Ryan Jones, former SLAM magazine EIC and an early James biographer, has seen it over and over and over. “Occurs to me we’ve been having the same LeBron conversation for a decade,” he tweeted after last night’s performance. “He must be so tired of us.” It’s a feeling that seems oddly reciprocal, given the recurring disdain despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
Sustained excellence in sports as LeBron has presented it is unusual. The Spurs, as dominant as they were for nearly two decades, had ups and downs, the failures magnifying the successes. Kobe Bryant too. LeBron has instead gotten to the rarefied air of the NBA Finals and stayed there, making it the new normal. Yes, LeBron in the finals, of course. Now what? Why doesn’t he win it? If Superman never changed back into Clark Kent, we’d probably tire of him, too.
So LeBron turns in historic performances and before the ink is even dry on the stat sheets we find fault. Yes, you did this now, but why didn’t you do it LAST game? OK, cool, you did something no one had ever done before, but why don’t you do it EVERY game? No one would ask that, right? Well, noted embarrassment to humanity Stephen A. Smith did:
All this noise about Iguodala being able to guard LEBRON can be out to rest. Only criticism abt @KingJames: Why Doesn't he do this ALWAYS!— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) June 14, 2016
We ask questions, LeBron James answers them, and we just turn around and ask more. This time, the answer should be final. The questions should stop. He must be so tired of them.