Starkey: LeBron's world
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LeBron James is on the kind of rampage no sports fan should miss.
Truly, this is pull-the-kids-out-of-bed-and-make-them-watch-it stuff.
The larger story is that LeBron has established himself as the best athlete in North America at the moment, and maybe the most likeable, but we'll get to that in a minute.
First, the rampage.
This is Mario Lemieux circa 1989. It's Michael Jordan in the '93 playoffs. It's Sidney Crosby ripping off 50 points in a 25-game scoring streak before the Winter Classic two years ago.
It's an all-time great at the very height of his powers.
Even Crosby, amid a busy hockey season, had a working knowledge of what LeBron's been up to when I approached him Wednesday morning.
“Are you talking about his shooting percentage?” Sid asked. “Yeah, they showed what his percentage was the last five games. It was pretty outrageous. I don't know if he kept it going.”
He did. I saw for myself, flicking on NBA TV Tuesday night to watch LeBron become the first player in NBA history to score 30 points in six consecutive games while making at least 60 percent of his field-goal attempts in each.
I tuned in with 7:32 left and the Heat trailing Portland, 95-93. Over the next 15 minutes, I saw LeBron, among other things, pin two shots on the backboard and throw down two ridiculous dunks (Sasha Pavlovic may be co-starring in a poster of one of them). He finished with 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting.
As a bonus, I witnessed this memorable exchange between NBA TV analysts Greg Anthony and Chris Webber, as they attempted to quantify LeBron's greatness:
Webber: “He could have played in the Super Bowl, and he could be a Bo Jackson-type hitter in baseball. And he could probably be Wayne Gretzky in hockey.”
Anthony: “You know, a lot of brothers don't play hockey.”
Webber: “Yeah, but if he could skate, man, just think.”
Just think: LeBron has made 70 of his past 96 field-goal attempts. He is averaging 27.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game. And he is doing it all while projecting the joy of a child.
So often in sports it feels as if the athlete is a million miles away. With LeBron, it feels inclusive, like everybody's in on the fun.
Have you seen the YouTube clips of LeBron interacting with fans? One shows him exchanging chest passes, before an in-bounds play, with a middle-aged man who caught a ball in the stands. Another shows him jubilantly tackling a fan who made a half-court shot at halftime.
Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both are LeBron fans. Malkin used to travel to Cleveland to watch him play. Crosby has a LeBron jersey.
“I've never had the chance to meet him, but I've gotten a jersey from him indirectly,” Crosby said. “Hopefully one day if it works out, I'd love to have the opportunity to meet him.”
No doubt, LeBron deserved the heat when he dissed Cleveland and voluntarily starred in the worst television show of all-time — “The Decision.” But he wore the villain's hat without complaint and earned his way back into America's good graces.
Most of America, anyway. For some, nothing could legitimize LeBron. As somebody who calls himself Gourmet Spud sarcastically tweeted after LeBron won NBA silver and Olympic gold within a matter of months: “This is all well and good, but LeBron still does not have a single intergalactic championship.”
Not yet, anyway.
In the meantime, I've never seen a better basketball player — or one I'd rather see young players emulate.
LeBron is totally unselfish. He defends everybody. He doesn't miss games. He acknowledges the obligation to give fans an honest night's work in every arena (listening, Gregg Popovich?).
Mike Krzyzewski put it best, telling Sports Illustrated: “He's one of the unique sports figures of all-time, really, and he's right in that area where it's all come together.”
I plan to see this in person March 3 in New York, and I suggest you turn on TNT tonight — even if you hate the NBA — for some of the Miami-Oklahoma City game.
Wake up the kids while you're at it.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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