In assessing LeBron James, I recall that, when Michael Jordan was deemed the greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN, my immediate reaction was, “He’s not even the best player in NBA history.”
So, keeping in mind that LeBron is not Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor or Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson or, yes, Michael Jordan, there is one word that describes his recent raise-the-game-a-notch period of excellence:
The thing is, you don’t need numbers to elucidate LeBron’s monstrous on-court brilliance; all you need to do is watch him.
When LeBron gets the ball and starts charging down the middle of the floor, it’s as if he’s a human locomotive – as a defender, you can either let him run by you or run over you; either way, he’s getting to the rim undeniably and forcibly.
LeBron’s post-dunk scowl could scare a fox back into a foxhole.
But LeBron’s skills go far beyond his open-court prowess. His shot selection, his precision passing, his rebounding, his understanding of game flow – yes, I said his understanding of game flow – have gotten so good, it makes him the NBA’s best and led to his recent freakish numbers.
Sports Nation’s jaw dropped when LeBron became the first player to score at least 30 points and shoot 60 percent or better in six consecutive games. This was a “record,” we were told, though I’m offering $1.25 to the first person who shows me what record book it appears in.
(I’m not going to make fun of stats anymore because the stats people then make fun of me. This I have found out: The New Age Sabermetricians know stuff the rest of us could not possibly comprehend. Just the other day, I ran into one of them in the produce aisle of the supermarket, and he produced a statistical abstract of an avocado.)
Speaking of stats, did you know that Kevin Garnett is the only player with 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 1,500 blocked shots? I now know because I’ve heard it cited 37 times in the last two weeks. Meanwhile, Rasheed Wallace is the only player with 15,000 points, 1,000 steals, 1,000 blocked shots, 300 technical fouls and 100 tattoos.
Anyway, LeBron’s 30-60 feat, I believe, is one of the great stretches in post-Renaissance history. To be sure, it compares favorably with the three greatest, documented stretches of high-level productivity since the 16th century:
—In 1888-89, Vincent van Gogh painted “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” “The Bedroom,” “The Mulberry Tree,” “Irises,” “The Yellow House,” “Wheat Field with Cypresses” and “The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Aries, at Night.” Note: He also cut off part of his left ear in 1888; contrary to published reports, this likely occurred as a reaction to sinus medication he was taking.
—From 1974 to 1980, Robert De Niro made “The Godfather: Part II,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Deer Hunter” and “Raging Bull.” Note: In that time frame, he also acted superbly in three less critically acclaimed films – “1900,” “The Last Tycoon” and “New York, New York.” So, in effect, De Niro posted seven straight triple-doubles thespian-wise.)
—Between 1985 and 1988, Ben & Jerry’s introduced New York Super Fudge Chunk, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey ice cream flavors in back-to-back-to-back -to-back years. Note: If I’m on my way to dinner and pass a Ben & Jerry’s, I will stop to get a scoop of Chocolate Fudge Brownie, just in case they’re closed on my way back.
(In other NBA news, Dallas Mavericks players vowed earlier this month not to shave until the team reaches .500. The Mavs are currently 23-29 – I think we’re talking Rip Van Winkle beards here.)
Of course, LeBron still has only one NBA title – heck, he trails Robert Horry by six rings – so we can’t crown King James the best ever yet.
Alas, LeBron’s 30-60 streak finally ended just before the All-Star break. Against the Thunder, LeBron had 39 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists, but he made only 14 of 24 field goal attempts.
However – and I’m proud of myself, because I did a little independent research here – it was his seventh straight game scoring at least 30 points and shooting 58 percent or better, which is a record.