NBA FINALS 2007: Long Live The King?

    I’m sorry to say, but I was not watching “”when.”” “”When,”” being LeBron James’ instant classic game-five performance, came as I was actually trying to get a head start on my own finals.

    I will never commit such an act of sacrilege again. Upon completion of the game I was bombarded with a series of text messages, proclaiming that this was it, that the King had truly been crowned, that His Airness now seemed to have a worthy successor who would return the game of basketball to a position of glory.

    Unfortunately, TNT refused to take ESPN’s awesome lead and reshow the game at 1 a.m., feeling that “”Blade II”” was a better programming choice for the time. While I like Wesley Snipes as much as the next guy, I really could’ve used that replay. Instead, I went looking for some illegal posting of the game, to no avail. Dejected, I finally found a place that would allow me to download the game, and legally at that, on nba.com. Of course, it would cost me $2.99 for a game that was free to watch, but if what happened was really as monumental as had been hinted, then this game would definitely be worth it.

    Waiting the four hours for the game to fully download, I began to curse my lackluster computer, dream of what the game had in store for me and do everything in my power to avoid being tipped off about what happened anymore than I already had been. This might sound easy, but when you base a good part of your day watching ESPN, checking your fantasy sports teams or looking through sports news Web sites, it’s a pretty daunting task.

    Finally, the download complete, I sat down and watched, ready to enjoy a memorable game in an NBA season.

    Till this game, the most enduring image from the 2006-07 season would be a toss-up between two Phoenix Suns kind of moving towards a fight and the hilarious image of the Celtics fan with his hands on his head and mouth gaping open as Boston deservingly ended up with the fifth pick in the draft. Now, while I loved the fact that Boston lost out on the Oden/Durant sweepstakes – which they had tanked so hard for – King James’ performance in the fourth quarter and both overtime periods of game five of the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons takes the cake. I won’t say it was the greatest display of basketball I had ever seen, and maybe not even top 10, but in a year when it seemed there were as many teams trying to lose as were trying to win, James’ utter determination was refreshing. James truly gave it his all to garner each of his 48 total points, including those two dunks toward the end of regulation and the winning layup with just over two seconds in the second overtime, when all five Pistons on the floor were guarding him and it was still evident that James wouldn’t be stopped. James did exactly what his team needed him to do, which was everything.

    There was actually something to talk about in the NBA playoffs again. With the image of the eight-seed Warriors upsetting the top-seed Mavericks already a distant memory that ended so anticlimactically in the second round, James’ coming of age at 22 and asserting his rightful claim to the basketball throne re-energized my passion and probably the entirety of this year’s NBA Finals. Indeed, if anybody is going to duplicate the Jordan saga, it seems James has the best chance. He has vanquished the Detroit Pistons, like Jordan, and now faces an experienced former champion, just as was the case when the Bulls downed the Lakers for MJ’s first trophy in 1991. Of course, James looks a lot more like Magic than Jordan and has no Scottie Pippen playing alongside him. Nonetheless, the very thought that James and the Jamesaliers could win, or at least put up a good fight, makes for a much better story than Spurs-Pistons II, aka the Battle of the Boring.

    As for the San Antonio Spurs, they can’t truly be labeled as boring, as they have seemed in previous years. Tony Parker has shown he can turn on the jets and Manu Ginobli is good for one or two crazy plays a game, while Bruce Bowen plays that street-ball defense some call dirty and Tim Duncan remains the symbol of consistent dominance. Add in former Mavericks all-star Michael Finley, former slam dunk champion Brent Barry (I swear, he won once) and King of the Clutch Robert Horry, and the Spurs are probably the most well-rounded championship contender in many years. Even with Fabricio Oberto as the starting center, the Spurs are still more interesting now than when Rasho Nesterovic was patrolling the paint. It seems that the team that has won all three of its previous titles in odd-numbered years, and still looked pretty good even when they didn’t make it to the finals, is poised for another title. Plus, Duncan is poised for another notch in a personal legacy that deserves mention in debate about the greatest of all time, no matter how much he whines (which happens after every single foul called against him or not called against the guy guarding him). There’s really not a lot to complain about. Maybe some free-throw deficiencies from Duncan, but nowhere near the Shaquillian level in that area. Sometimes they might lose a little intensity, but they never get as cocky or disinterested as the Pistons. Hell, the only complaint you can have about Gregg Popovich is that he doesn’t love enough, and it’d be kind of fun to see him out at the club with Tony Parker and Eva Longoria or at least hugging Manu Ginobili and getting a big ole Argentinean kiss.

    The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have James … oh, and Usher is a part owner. Though they wouldn’t trade him for any other team in the world, it’s slim pickings after the King of Cleveland. Even his scoring 29 of the final 30 points in game five could be attributed as much to the rest of the Cavaliers’ inability to score as to James’ resolve to win. Game six LeBron James seemed a little more comfortable, playing more like the set-up man, and happy to get the majority of his points from the foul line after driving to the hoop. This kind of makes me think he’s been studying tapes of Dwayne Wade’s playoff performance last season, which would be a good idea, because a guy who is 6’8″” and 250 pounds should be able to get to the rim as well as a shooting guard who’s four inches shorter, rather than settling for those stupid fade-aways in the lane.

    As for the rest of the Cavaliers: Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a good big man who should be able to at least avoid being embarrassed by Duncan. Anderson Varejao is an excellent energy guy, Larry Hughes has the potential to steal almost as much as I do when I see those free watermelons just sitting outside the grocery store and Daniel Gibson’s 31-point showing in game six against the Pistons was probably the second-best performance by a guy nicknamed “”Boobie”” (after the running back from the Friday Night Lights movie). Still, Mike Brown is the worst coach to reach the NBA Finals since Brian Hill in 1995, and it’s hard to imagine Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones and Eric Snow participating in more than two games between the three of them in which they’re actually useful.

    The 2007 NBA Finals might not end up being King James’ title coronation, but by taking his vagabond squad so close to the Promised Land at such a young age and showing us that, yes, he really can be that good, he’s created a new level of excitement that the game has been missing for awhile. And maybe, just maybe, James’ got a couple more instant classics up his sleeve. I promise not to work too hard on my finals, just in case.

    Spurs in 6.

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