Justice Is Served

April 28, 2010 10:55 AM

'King James' moves step closer to NBA crown


Sullen and detached from the moment, LeBron James stared vacantly into arena air and then turned and headed for the visiting team's locker room as Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and the rest of the Orlando Magic celebrated their series-clinching win last season in the Eastern Conference Finals.

James had no reason to watch them, to stand still and look on as Howard, his friend and U.S. Olympic teammate, danced the dance of a victor -- enjoying the sweet fruits of his victory. The sight was more than James could bear. He had lost; his season was over; his title hopes dashed. Yet James felt he had more basketball left in him to play.

His season ... it wasn't supposed to end like this, not in Orlando and not against the Magic and not in the conference finals.

James couldn't reconcile the 103-90 loss; its hurt was too raw, too agonizingly obscene to have to think about. So he tuned it out -- all the hoopla and the merrymaking. He left the arena without saying one word. He didn't reach out to Howard and the Magic and offer his congrats.

Again, another season had ended in defeat for a Cleveland franchise. It was another year without a championship for a city that coveted one. So did its prodigal son. For the championship is the one missing line on his resume, a resume that includes about everything else a superstar who shines as bright as James does can claim.

But sports is often about other chances -- second, third and fourth chances. For some athletes, opportunity comes just once if it comes at all. None of those athletes is LeBron James, who now takes his Cavs into the Eastern Conference semifinals after a 96-94 win Tuesday night over the Bulls.

In 2007, he had been close. He was younger then; he was playing on a Cavs team that didn't have the firepower or the emotional fortitude to withstand the playoff-tested Spurs of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. The Spurs swept the series, a Technicolor memory James tucked away with him as he has the memory of last season.

To minify his disappointment would be to misread his fighter's determination. Time after time, James has talked about winning, about bringing an NBA title to his hometown, bringing it to a town that hungers for this ultimate prize in and for the pomp that comes with it. Singlehandedly at times, he's tried to make it happen, carrying an inexperienced and talent-challenged teams on his back as far as he could.

Those were different teams than the one James plays for now. This Cavaliers teams is his best team, and it is his best chance for winning that title. He has a deep team around him. Gone are the deadweights of Damon Jones, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Ira Newble and Drew Gooden.

Aside from Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson, James has a new supporting cast. Of the three players, Varejao is the only one who makes consistent contributions. Z and Gibson are barely role players, hanging by dental floss to their NBA lives.

Z and Gibson wouldn't be players to pin championship hopes on - not on this team. They are part of James' yesteryear amd not his present. And LeBron James isn't a player who seems to dwell on what happened in the long ago. 

James can forget the long ago. Who forgets heartbreak? He prefers, it seems, to keep his eyes looking in front of him.

His sights are on the Celtics now, on Ray Allen, Rondo, Garnett and Pierce. They are an experienced team, as the Spurs were when they beat the Cavaliers in the '07 Finals.

This Cavaliers team that James leads is ready for the experienced, and for the inexperienced, which it proved against the high-energy Bulls, a team to reckon with in the seasons ahead. This wasn't their season for moving forward in the NBA playoffs, even with Derek Rose, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah in the lineup; this is the season for LeBron James and his Cavaliers.     

He and his teammates need 12 more wins. Four against the Celtics are a must if the picture James has in his mind of a champion's celebration on Public Square and down Euclid Avenue is to come true. The championship is what drives him; it is what he's sought since joining the Cavaliers.

LeBron James had one chance. Now, he's a step closer to that second chance, a step closer to winning the NBA title he wants to bring to his hometown. He wants this season, just maybe his last season in Wine and Gold, to end like none of the others before it have: not in a show of frustration but in smiles, confetti, hugs and high-fives. 



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