LeBron James took me to a higher place yesterday.
No, really. The Cavaliers, a team that supposedly puts 5 players on the court just like everyone else, beat the former champion Pistons in double overtime thanks to the efforts of a single extraordinary man. His coach ran out of plays to call. His well-meaning but limited teammates fouled with such abandon that the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th best scorers were disqualified from the game. Eric Snow, the backup point guard, was like a 10 year old playing with his older brother’s friends: each offensive possession, he just sat on the baseline so he wouldn’t get in the way. Every single play, LeBron, his teammates, the Pistons, everyone in the whole wide world, including any fetuses who were listening to this game through their mothers’ wombs, knew he had to go it alone.
So he did. He notched the last 25 points for his team, 48 in all. At the end of Game 3, he hit a fallaway 3-pointer with Tayshaun Prince, the man who retired Reggie Miller, in his face. It was one of the best plays of the year, and it brought me to my feet, leaping and shouting. Last night, he made that same shot at least 5 times. Other times, he ran through the entire opposing team, Maradona-style, and dunked it with a wrathful Hand of God. Even his hops seemed alien; it is impossible to accelerate in mid-air, right?
I can’t control the actions of strangers, so I try not to take spectator sports personally. Sometimes, though, the moment is too real. One afternoon, we were having lunch at my grandmother’s house. She gave me a bowl of ice cream, but I was too distraught to eat it. I was old enough to understand hoops but young enough to believe that God owed my Pacers a championship. We were losing to the Knicks by 6 with 16 seconds left, though, and I was preparing myself to man up and admit that failure was an unavoidable part of life. Then Reggie Miller hit a three-pointer, and before I could finish saying there was hope, he’d stolen the ball and tied the game. My ice cream almost ended up on the ceiling. John Starks, continuing his personal meltdown, missed his free throws; Reggie got the board and the foul and swished the shots. 8 points in 8.9 seconds. We won, and my hero had showed me anything is possible.
King James doesn’t play for my team, but watching him abjure the laws of physics and probability last night brought back that feeling. I had this revelation, too: he was meant to play this game. It’s much easier to see this sort of thing in entertainers, perhaps because they give themselves up to us so publicly. If it’s an accident that of all the millennia this man could be born, he ended up in the one with a professional basketball league, it’s certainly a fortunate one. Thank Heaven for sports, which make cosmic struggles so easy to understand…and so thrilling to watch!