I grew up in the Northwest, and because of that I’ve been a Blazer fan for as long as I’ve been aware of the NBA (second grade). I’m pretty old, meaning that when I was in elementary school Portland was in the NBA Finals a couple times. One of those times, the time that I remember best, they lost to the Chicago Bulls and one Michael Jordan.
I hated Michael Jordan. I hated everybody that liked Michael Jordan. I hated that Michael Jordan was the most well-known player on the Dream Team (and not Clyde Drexler). And more than anything I hated that Michael Jordan was so clearly the best player in the NBA that no matter how much you wanted them to, not even your favorite player would say different.
So what did I do? I refused to watch the Bulls. I refused to care about Michael Jordan. I refused to join everybody else on the bandwagon.
Certainly I missed a lot of the greatest basketball every played, and much of my knowledge and memories of the best NBA player ever to play is second-hand and anecdotal, but I maintained my allegiance to the Blazers and with it my personal integrity. As a basketball fan in elementary school, my team was more important to me than the Golden Age of the NBA, even if my head in the sand approach left me on the short-end of the historical narrative.
I’m here to tell you, nothing has changed. Well not exactly nothing. The name of the principal villain has changed, but my personal devotion to the Portland Trail Blazers has not.
I wrote in my preview to Tuesday’s game that LeBron James has risen to the level of best player in the league. He was there last season, and probably the season before, his first NBA Championship only served to prove it. This season, though, he’s not only the best player in the league, he’s the type of player that everybody around the country (and probably the world) feels an obligation to stop and watch.
I too can be charged with stopping and watching LeBron James. He’s basically the personification of perfect basketball. Kevin Durant has the handle of a point guard, the length of a center, and the touch of a three-point specialist. But LeBron can’t be described in basketball terms. He has the size and strength of a locomotive. He has the speed and athleticism of some sort of wild animal. He has the skill and touch of something both incredibly skillful and absolutely deft.
LeBron James is so good that hyperbolic similes are basically worthless. And I hate him.
Not every night, mind you, not on nights when he’s not playing the Blazers (and not on nights when he loses to the Blazers), but on nights like Tuesday, I hate him.
The Miami Heat are probably going to win the NBA Championship this season (I say probably because anything is possible). LeBron James is having the best stretch of play in the history of professional basketball. Portland is on the wrong end of a four game losing streak. With a Houston win and a Laker win happening on Tuesday night, the Blazers are slipping further and further away from the Playoffs. The Blazers are in serious need of a win. And Tuesday night, they were within sniffing distance of their biggest win of the season (or yet another one of their biggest wins of the season).
And that’s why I hate LeBron James. Tuesday, James went 11-of-15 from the field for 30 points, his sixth straight game with at least 30 points while shooting at least 60% from the field, and produced a number of bring-the-house-down dunks that will certainly lead off SportsCenter. Every thing he did was perfect. He collected nine assists and six rebounds and turned the ball over once. LeBron James owned Tuesday night’s game, from start to finish.
But there’s another reason why my hatred for LeBron James reached new heights Tuesday. James was unbelievable against the Blazers, but this game was by no means a blow out. Portland was in it all the way, trailing by double figures, then leading by double figures, then getting down by double figures again, and then taking a one-point lead late in the fourth quarter. And down the stretch, LeBron wasn’t scoring.
In fact, in Tuesday’s final 12 minutes, James contributed only five points. LeBron had a free throw that cut Portland’s lead to 95-93 with eight minutes left (a rather meaningless bucket). And then he had a dunk with 4:56 to play (giving the Heat a 101-99 lead), and then another dunk with 2:38 left in the game (icing Miami’s win). It was almost as if LeBron was toying with Portland Tuesday night, letting them think they were close enough to win before stepping his game up just enough to shut the door on their dreams.
I’m not an elementary school student anymore, so I’m not so insecure that I can’t watch and enjoy LeBron James, I don’t pretend he doesn’t exist like I tried to do with Michael Jordan.
I’m not even that angry that Damian Lillard (33 points while shooting 10-of-18 from the field and 10-of-11 from the line Tuesday night) and LaMarcus Aldridge (29 points while missing only seven field goal attempts) are nothing but window dressing in the LeBron Show (I mean I’m kind of angry but not apoplectic).
I’m not above a moral victory every now and then, especially when Damian has the type of bounce-back game he had Tuesday. I just wish LeBron James wasn’t so damn good at basketball.
One quick thing courtesy of Craig Birnbach and Twitter:
Luke Babbitt is shooting 36% overall and 35% from 3, that is not good enough for a guy whose only skill is shooting #Blazers
— Craig Birnbach (@CBirnbachKATU) February 13, 2013