x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

LeBron James is now in the right frame and mind

The first time I saw LeBron James? … Many a soul could bore you on that matter, but the fact remains that it was staggering.

In the NBA finals for a second consecutive year, LeBron James is knocking all obstacles out of his path and powering towards that elusive first title.
In the NBA finals for a second consecutive year, LeBron James is knocking all obstacles out of his path and powering towards that elusive first title.

The first time I saw LeBron James? …

Many a soul could bore you on that matter, but the fact remains that it was staggering.

On Saturday night, February 8, 2003, he entered an arena in Trenton, New Jersey, and the necks of older adults craned en masse.

Here, through the tunnel, came an 18-year-old high school basketball phenomenon with the body of a thoroughly conditioned 28-year-old man, a frame so complete and powerful it seemed either an illusion or a further wrinkle of human evolution.

The very idea of his age - again, 18 - made him look futuristic, like something straight out of tomorrow.

James's high-school team from Ohio would play a high-school team from Los Angeles, the students having jetted in as a leading hallmark of a declining civilisation. Nobody much cared about the leading hallmark of declining civilisation, the view being too fascinating.

Gasps were audible as James fielded a lob and threw down a dunk in the pre-game warm ups.

He scored 52 points. He displayed all that big-man, all-court talent that dates back 30 years to Earvin "Magic" Johnson. And he looked ready pronto for the NBA, which he would join that summer, and from which there would remain one beguiling question: What was inside?

To a large degree, the NBA ever since then has been concerned what might be inside James, the question gone rampant in the last 24 months. Since only 2010, he has bowed out with Cleveland in an Eastern Conference semi-finals, barely into the play-offs, accused of weak will while forgiven for weak teammates.

He has left Cleveland for Miami on his own ludicrous 30-minute television show in July 2010, seeming loaded with naivete and Narcissism. He has dwindled in fourth quarters of Miami's NBA finals against Dallas in June 2011, betraying signs of a strange softness inside a statuesque man.

A 2-1 series lead drifted to a 4-2 Dallas title that delighted a nation repelled by Heat obnoxiousness.

In series this spring against Indiana and Boston, James and Miami drifted smack into trouble (Indiana) and right to the brink (Boston), with his inability to play Hercules occasionally befuddling, mysterious. If he could - remember Game 5, 2007 Eastern finals against Detroit, 48 points, including his team's final 25 points? - then why didn't he?

Of course, it turns out yet again that you can build an inside as you can an outside.

In June 2012, James's will has turned up and roared to resemble a considerable force but also of a learnt quality, the pain from 2011 and Dallas meshing with having realised over time what's required.

First, in the Eastern finals Game 6 in Boston, where elimination and mass national howling loomed, James extracted that 45-point, 15-rebound, five-assist wonder.

Now, if you wake at 5am UAE time to watch this wonder against Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA finals, you see the will everywhere, hovering, governing.

The young, fresh Thunder might take a gaping lead against the Heat in this all-weather series - it was 17 points Tuesday early on, 10 points in Game 3 later on - but James's sustained will makes that seem tenuous.

When the Thunder come down and score, sometimes breathtakingly given their dazzling speed, James's will makes you think, Yeah, but ...

n fourth quarters, there's James' will, prominent in the proceedings. In the fourth quarter of Game 4 yesterday morning, James' will got itself a solitary moment, when he cramped, got carried off, got treatment, returned, and nailed the 24-foot three-pointer with 2:55 left that broke a 94-94 tie and furnished a lead for good.

Through 30 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals in Game 1, and through 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists in Game 2, and through 29 points, 14 rebounds and three assists in Game 3, and through 26 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and two steals in Game 4, the will has stuck around.

It is as if, in those hundred or so years between age 18 and age 27, it has learnt how to stick around.

It joins that frame and the basketball knowledge - remember, we're told, he's still a better passer than shooter - for something insurmountable.

It also demands a rewrite.

Among the grating offences of the Heat when they amassed their "Big Three" - James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh - was a grotesque welcome ceremony in the arena, where the trio spoke foolishly of five, six, seven titles.

Yet as of yesterday morning, James's consummate know-how, gathered inside that jaw-dropping frame, did make it sensible to envision two or three at the very least.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE