Hooley: The death of perspective and logic

posted by Bruce Hooley -

You can't have it both ways in sports. Not these days. It's hot takes at 20 paces and you must choose a winner. No, really, you must.

Reach across eras if you have to, but make sure you come armed to every discussion these days involving the Cleveland Cavaliers with a set-in-stone, defend-to-the-death position on where LeBron James ranks...whether it's all time in NBA annals or in his own team's pecking order on a nightly basis or going forward.

That's what we learned from Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Quicken Loans Arena.

LeBron can't just have a bad game, like he did in Game 3, when he scored 11 points, none in the fourth quarter. No, that was not just an off night, it was proof that (sarcasm font) LeBron James will never be as good as Michael Jordan.

Because no truly great all-time great would never have a game like that, right? I mean, Jordan never missed a shot. Babe Ruth never struck out. Roger Clemens never lost a game. Correct?

That sort of nonsense dominated for 48 hours with the only allowance that James' apocalyptic failure in the Cavs game 3 loss could be atoned for by him coming out and taking over Game 4 right away.

Except he didn't. LeBron, for the first time in his career, picked up four fouls in the first half. So to the bench he went. With the Cavs trailing by 10, and eventually by 16.

And then, while the critics were warming up the furnace to cremate LeBron's legacy and scatter his ashes over Akron, something seismic happened in the Cavaliers’ construct.

Kyrie Irving scored 12 points with LeBron on the bench in the second quarter. And then, Kyrie scored 21 in the third quarter when the King returned to the lineup.

This didn't just get the Cavs in position to win, it signified a passing of the torch from LeBron to Kyrie in the opinionated world of those who must read lasting significance into everything that happens every minute.

Kyrie didn't just have a great game. He didn't just step forward when his team needed him. He grabbed the mantle of leadership from LeBron. He announced his emergence as the Cavaliers' No. 1 option. He served notice that this is his time.

Oh, please.

The Cavs will go as far, and no farther, as LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin Love take them together. Most times, the scoring breakdown will shake out in that order. Sometimes, it might deviate slightly.

If so, that is not a sign that the Good Ship Cavalier has sprung a leak. That will be a sign that the Cavs are a team, where if opponents concentrate on stopping one thing, another arises to make them pay.

LeBron is outstanding at this, probably the best at his position in NBA history. He has more assists than any forward ever to play the game, and he is unquestionably the most unselfish superstar ever.

Some see this as a flaw. I see it as a characteristic that distinguishes him from some others. Distinguishes, but doesn't make him better. You see, when I analyze LeBron, I actually can allow that he's great in this era and -- hold on, I'm about to say something controversial -- Jordan was great in his era, too.

In my universe MJ and LeBron can share adjectives like, winner, clutch and great, without having to arm wrestle over which deserves the label more.

The script on this season still has many pages to be written. If LeBron is the LeBron of the Cavs’ first 10 playoff games in the NBA Finals, you better brace for all sorts of far-reaching pronouncements about where he ranks all-time.

And if he and the Cavs come up short, you can bet it won't just be about Golden State having a historic 73-win team from a year ago that added one of the game's greatest players in Kevin Durant. No, the Warriors win over the Cavs will inevitably be spun as proof of some fundamental flaw in LeBron James.

There is simply no room for logic or perspective these days. So dig in now and choose your position. Unless you, like me, would actually prefer just watching and enjoying without the future of civilization hanging on the outcome.

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