HOUSTON -- Go ahead. Call it anticlimactic. Moan about the mind-numbing pointlessness of yet another NBA Finals, the fourth in a row, featuring the Warriors and the Cavaliers.
Though the Warriors are heavily favored, and rightly so, there are reasons that Part IV in the annual series warrants at least as much attention as the previous three. Chief among them is the magnitude of LeBron James.
We acknowledge LeBron's polarizing persona, but at this stage of his career, that shouldn't matter.
Indeed, how does one turn away from a once-in-a-generation athlete when there is a deep personal desire to see him fail or succeed?
LeBron has had many fine hours, maybe none finer than this postseason. He's thrilling his supporters and fascinating his detractors. He has spent the past six weeks captivating the avid sports fan and enchanting the casual fan.
LeBron has always defied physics, and still does, but now he's embracing and meeting the challenge of dunking on Father Time.
After leading the NBA in minutes played during the regular season, LeBron has been the most productive player in the playoffs. He's delivering 34.0 points per game, 9.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists. He's shooting 54.2 percent. He has seven games with at least 40 points. LeBron is setting fire to the stat sheet while dragging a collection of mostly modestly talented teammates back to The Finals.
"It's been incredible to watch," veteran big man David West said late Monday night, after the Warriors reached The Finals with a Game 7 win over the Rockets.
At the mention of LeBron, Shaun Livingston's eyebrows went north.
"Wow, it's crazy what he's been doing," he said of James.
It's beyond crazy. It's not the age; he's 33. It's the mileage. LeBron has played more total minutes than any player in the league not named Dirk Nowitzki. LeBron is 20th on the all-time for regular season minutes, piling up more than Vince Carter and Jason Terry, members of the 40-plus Club.
The last time we saw such a dominating individual in an American team sport was 2004. In the year he turned 40, Barry Bonds hit 45 home runs. He batted .362, walked a record 232 times and set another record with a .609 on-base percentage.
Bonds won his fourth consecutive MVP award by putting up unprecedented numbers -- having his greatest seasons -- at an age when everyone else who ever played baseball was showing signs of decline.
It didn't make sense, and we have since learned why.
What LeBron is doing doesn't make sense, either.
While there are unsubstantiated whispers that he must be doing something medically unsavory -- using performance-enhancing drugs; -- the one thing we know for sure is James is playing at a spectacular level.
It's as if he's retreading his wheels on the fly, and that draws suspicion, as it should.
Until there is actual evidence, though, it's one man doing things we've never seen.
If LeBron were to lead the Cavaliers to a championship at this time, against these Warriors, it would be among the most impressive achievements in NBA history, right up there with Wilt Chamberlain averaging 50 points in a season and Robert Parish's 1,795 total games.
The reason why we love professional sports is not only because they offer the highest levels of competition. It's also because they offer possibility of the sensational. Our eyes are attracted toward athletic wonders, like them or not.
The Warriors are vastly superior to the Cavaliers, more this postseason than in any of the previous three. Even with the uncertainty of Andre Iguodala's availability -- he would be one of the primary defenders on James -- this series should not go more than five games.
These Finals give everyone a "hero" and a "villain." Pick a team. Pick a player. LeBron, of course, is both. See him fly. Or see him fall. Either way, it's worth watching.
|Game 1||Oakland -- Thursday, May 31 at 6pm|
|Game 2||Oakland -- Sunday, June 3 at 5pm|
|Game 3||Cleveland -- Wednesday, June 6 at 6pm|
|Game 4||Cleveland -- Friday, June 8 at 6pm|
|Game 5||Oakland -- Monday, June 11 at 6pm|
|Game 6||Cleveland -- Thursday, June 14 at 6pm|
|Game 7||Oakland -- Sunday, June 17 at 5pm|