This story appears in the Dec. 10, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated. Buy the digital version of the magazine here.
Pat Riley stood in the mouth of the tunnel at Boston's TD Garden, between the court and the locker room, and waited for the Boat. That's what he calls LeBron James -- "You know," Riley explains, "best of all time" -- an acronym he conjured to remind the planet's preeminent basketball player of frontiers still to be conquered. "Hey, Boat," Riley will say. "How is the Boat doing today?" James will reflexively laugh and shake his head because he is not the Boat, at least not yet. But on that sweaty night at the Garden, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, facing yet another summer cast as the villain foiled, he delivered one of the Boat performances in NBA history. The image of James throughout the game, bent at the waist, staring skyward with pupils pushed to his eyelids, recalled predators of different breeds. "He was primal," Riley says. "He was a cobra, a leopard, a tiger hunched over his kill."