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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NBA REPORT

Florida media get it wrong on LeBron


NEW YORK — So, as I'm waiting to flotilla out of Florida, I felt compelled to support the newspaper industry by purchasing some of the local periodicals to get their take on what I had just seen.

Not surprisingly, I guess, nearly every editorial "celebrated" the launching of LeBron's shamelessly prophesied Title Wave, and admonished, let us say, the non-supporters of the King's coronation, at long last, after nine seasons.

"Bout damned time!" he concurred.

Ardently reeling with the feeling of LeBron's incandescent MVP fireworks, South Florida's paperboys claimed he had proven detractors wrong, when, in fact, he had proven them right.

Pretending like we had never heard a disparaging word from them regarding LeBron's passive presentation in last season's Finals and contemptuous conduct afterward, his cheering section got it butt backward.

Were they so swept away by the Heat's ascension to the throne and/or so attached to LeBron that they failed to grasp his contrition prior to Game 5?

By LeBron's own admission of guilt, something uncommonly verbalized by athletes not caught in the act of something diabolical, he had played the wrong way in his first season as ringmaster of the Heat's three-ring circus and behaved the wrong way off the court.

By his own admission, LeBron volunteered he had looked in the mirror following his fourth quarter fiasco against Dallas, in which he averaged three points (seven in Game 6 on 3-for-5 shooting) in a half-dozen fourth quarters.

The audacity of anybody north of Palm Beach to pan that.

Additionally, LeBron recognized he needed to abolish his "hate" persona and reverse his outside-in position.

Meaning LeBron began working on correcting personality and performance defects. Meaning, consciously, subconsciously or unconsciously, he followed the advice of critics who have been imploring him for years, not just since he took his talents to South Beach, to hang out less beyond the great divide and flex his muscle more by crashing the offensive boards and punishing victims on post-ups.

To his noteworthy credit, he went back to the drawing board after last season's Finals flush. Regardless of how he came to the realization, LeBron concluded he had spent way too much time in the isolation booth and not enough time in the painted pony.

So, LeBron reached out to Hakeem (Dream Shake) Olajuwon and asked to be taken down for a week and taught how to lambada in the lane.

As a result of the radical physical and mental adjustment, James became a force from all angles, as difficult to stop as the European debt crisis.

His playoff supremacy — 23 games, averaging 30.3 points (50 percent), 9.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists — stacks up against anyone in the annals.

Against the Mavs in 2011, he came up short (17.8 points and 7.2 rebounds) and tight (60 percent foul shooting). No June swoon this time; he stole the Thunder from the Oklahomans, averaging 28.6, 10.2 and 82.6 FT.

In other words, Richie Kalikow underlined, "LeBron gave up trying to split the Finals atom and went with the established Jordan and Kobe Plan . . . get inside, pass or draw fouls, go to the line, down free throws like they're your first beer of the night, and stay thirsty, my friends."

LeBron did what MVPs do: became better, shepherded the Heat to the Promised Land and transformed role players (Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers) into household names by setting them up for easy kills.

And, in the grueling, glorious process there comes alleged "vindication."

From what? From who that truly might matter?

Detractors certainly were consumed in hoping LeBron's free throw gagging would last forevermore and he would never win a title. But surely not even the half-wits actually believed it wouldn't happen . . . igniting an inescapable landslide.

It's fascinating how crown moulding changes a room's perception. In Game 2 against OKC, LeBron furnished his first-ever clutch points (less than five minutes left in a game, teams within five) in three Finals appearances and was hailed a hero.

He could have just as easily earned eternal damnation.

In the closing moments, LeBron committed a foolish turnover and took a terrible 3-pointer after standing still at the top of the circle and bouncing away the 24-second clock. Then, with the Heat up two in the final seconds, he got away with fouling Kevin Durant three times on the same shot. Had the referees done their duty and Daddy Long Legs converted, OKC might have won by one.

Had that happened, LeBron might have reached out for psychiatric help and spent all summer wearing Floyd Patterson's bearded disguise.

When you lose, it's a mortal sin on your soul.

When you win, there are no sins.

In the end, LeBron had the fortitude to face his fears and flaws and conquer, no, vanquish them. He proved it, not to detractors, but to himself.

* * *

Orlando's hiring Rob Hennigan as its GM all but assures the exodus of Dwight Howard (to Brooklyn, still his first choice) even sooner than expected. The 30-year-old Thunder assistant GM is coming from a franchise that was built patiently and prudently through the draft and trades.

Upon taking over the team when it was based in Seattle, the first thing Hennigan's boss (Sam Presti) did was cut the cord with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. The same thing is bound to happen to Howard.

Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.


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