Did anyone see game three? Did anyone rejoice? Or was it a little sad after all. I think it was a little sad.
LeBron James can’t play basketball when he’s defended like a human being by a human being who is playing basketball. He’s mortal when he faces a mortal who treats him like a mortal. Yep. We’re all people when we’re treated like people, but that wasn’t the case for LeBron for the longest time. He hasn’t been a real person since before high school. Till now.
It’s like traffic. Watching LeBron get D’d (yes, capital “D”) up for the ages is like how when I sit in traffic—usually somewhere between Santa Barbara and Century City after 4 p.m. on a Friday—and think about the traffocalypse. Traffocalypse equals that moment someday soon when there will be too many cars in the road and everything just stops.
And then we get out and we realize all the satellites above just blinked their final digital wink and are falling from the sky and there’s nothing glowing in our palms to tell us where to hide. No beeps, burrs, hums or horns. No reminder dings. And everyone slowly unwraps their kung fu grip from the steering wheel and opens the door and looks at one another like barn cats. The ones who aren’t trapped that is. Some cars will lock their passengers in during traffocalypse. The unlucky will be forced to swallow their own saliva and drink their own urine until they just kind of slink down to the floorboards, scavenger a couple goldfish crackers from under the seat and blend into the dust of beige.
The rest will extract themselves and see it all unravel in deliberate randomness—like a James Franco short story. And the volume of the ocean and sea birds and wind through palms will be audible enough to feel. And the world will cease to be like it was and become more like the Talking Heads said it would be.
Only nobody will remember the Talking Heads or the NBA or LeBron. And that’s OK, because there will be other, more important things to remember. Things coded way down deep—a hidden codicil in this precious fleshy experiment that has nothing to do with sitting at a desk or telling a spreadsheet to do something when really, it’s just you moving your fingers across very small square keys over and over creating shadow puppets by the light of the screen.
The realization that that’s really not doing anything except producing tiny clicking sounds that sound like raindrops and maybe there’s comfort in that but maybe real rain drops are better.
It took like what? Ten years, 842 regular season games, 20 games in the finals and a pair NBA championships plus 39 minutes for 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard to fleece LeBron of his headband, jersey, shorts, sneakers and crown at the feet of the Jonestown-inspired Miami crowd squeezed in the stands like a giant whitehead—botox to boob job.
The emperor, once deposited on the frayed denim shores of South Beach from the Rust Belt was, in fact, stripped of not just the ball but his reluctant throne. Now he stares up at a larger-than-it-seems 2-1 NBA Finals deficit like a glance on the scoreboard to see a fifth foul by his name. Left seemingly with nothing but the tattoos which have only come to symbolize the day he got the tattoo on his forearms and a chunk of pressured coal in his ear and the memory of victory’s past.
The metering lights are on. The sig alert is flashing. The brakes are breathing like an air control tower on the horizon and traffic is beginning to slow. LeBron could exit his car at any moment and stand, rub his eyes and look around in dismay.
In the past, it was a simple matter of symbiosis keeping the asphalt arteries flowing. It was about having the perfect foil, keeping the only man who could D you up, who you can’t take it to in the paint, on your the same team. Enemies closer and all that. This and only this could keep both the harmony of dynasty and the preservation of individual legacy: Russell had Havlicek, Bird had McHale, Magic had Kareem, Jordan had Pippen, Isiah had Laimbeer and Kobe had Shaq.
Yes, there is Wade and Bosch and even Allen. These role players, while streaky and one-in-awhile great as individuals, do not make LeBron anything more simply a man inching along. His previous accomplishments by default. His now in question and his future the freeway exit ahead.
Toward victory or defeat or a complete halt, it doesn’t matter—because now the rest of us have seen him, for the first time, crawling along like us. And there’s something a little scary about that truth.
He will work again, harder, on Thursday. He will lean over the steering column, adjust his glasses and look inward and to the sky as that hopeful nervous grin stretches out over his massive ivory columns behind his mouthpiece. He will check up to find traffic helicopter overhead buzzes out of the occluded view behind the lens of his windshield and he will realize after all that driving, it might be time to get out and stretch.
His mortality reveal showed us while we’ve been idling, we’ve also had it all wrong: This inching along, LeBron now knows, it’s not to get somewhere. It’s that we’re waiting to be rescued from nowhere.