The greatness of LeBron James has never been ethereal or magical like Stephen Curry’s; instead, James’ power is logical and crushingly predictable.
Curry’s brilliance is absurd, and so, in different ways, is the brilliance of Russell Westbrook and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The way these stars succeed is mind-blowing in its strangeness, marvellously uncomfortable in its unusualness.
James has never felt as unknowable. The impossibility of LeBron comes not with the individual plays he makes, but in the fact that a human being exists in his form and construction.
The passing and vision of James have always been his most ghostly, poetic skills. It’s those talents, ultimately, that elevate James from the pantheon into whatever is above the pantheon.
But, what is most obvious about James to someone who has no understanding of basketball is also still the primary driver of his magnificence; the power of his body.
It’s the physical presence of James, the intimidating aura he exudes on the court, a king among boys, the realest human among ants, that makes him so commanding. Outside of that bizarre 2011 Finals, for James’s entire career, whenever he has been on the floor, the nine other players have just been people sharing his court.
So it went against the Wizards on Friday night, with the likes of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kevin Love and once-famous actors Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade merely extras in LeBron’s film. It was a breathtaking, if repetitive, picture, one that only Beal occasionally threatened to disrupt.
Everything that has made post-2012-Game-5-versus-the-Celtics-LeBron special was on display. The mesmerising force, pushing his way into the paint with a mix of speed, brutishness and ballet; the relentlessness underneath the rim, clearing space and owning rebounds; the jumping of passing lanes; the soul-destroying blocks; the selfless passing; the cinematic dagger threes – a wink to the player LeBron has always wanted to be a little more like, and is great enough that he can occasionally become.
The result was the ultimate LeBron Power Game – 57 points on 34 shots, 11 rebounds (five offensive), nine trips to the line, and only, remarkably, four threes attempted.
The Wizards were left helpless, like all before them outside of the Bay Area. James’ masterpiece was one both astounding and depressing – a testament to the force an individual can exert over a team game, and a reminder that a team game is so often dependent on who has the best individual.
The Cavs, especially when he wasn’t there, have only ever been able to go as far as James could take them. But this season that notion is being stretched to absurd lengths. This is, outside of the best player in the world, an awful team. Little makes sense in its theoretical construction or on-court reality.
Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade do not belong on the same team, especially when Isaiah Thomas is waiting in the wings. There is one proven traditional big man on the roster – Tristan Thompson – and he’s 6’9 and injured. Jae Crowder makes sense alongside James as a hybrid 3-4, but not when Kevin Love is playing the five, which he is forced to time and time again.
Jeff Green is bad at basketball and the Iman Shumpert game is over. There is no exciting or even interesting youth. Jose Calderon is getting minutes.
But none of it seems to matter, not in the East anyway, and not until Game 1 in Oakland. Boston lost its best player, the Raptors have created their own above-average form of mediocrity, Washington’s bench is still a disaster zone, and the Bucks aren’t ready yet.
In the haze of this woebegone conference, James is still its only shining truth.