The Steele Drum

July 10, 2010 10:24 AM

The Season of LeBron: Don't Touch That Remote

lebron_gray.jpgOnly three months, give or take a few days, until training camp starts! Four months until the season opener. Five-and-a-half months until Christmas Day. Seven months, the All-Star Game. Nine, the playoffs begin and, in a mere 11 months, the Finals.

I can't wait. Can. Not. Wait. This could be the greatest season for watching the NBA of all time. Best year of actual basketball, maybe or maybe not, but who cares about that?
Drama, subplots, subtexts, soap opera, picking apart every game, every matchup, every possession, every facial expression or hand gesture or word, spoken or unspoken --  there is more to anticipate, soak up, poke around and forecast in this upcoming season than any other ever played.

This is what The Decision has brought us.

Thank you, LeBron James, Miami Heat, the city of Cleveland, Dan Gilbert, ESPN, Jim Gray, America's most infamous Boys & Girls Club, even eminently likable and admirable (and already possessor of a championship ring) Dwyane Wade. You have made the 2010-11 season must-see TV, not to mention must-Facebook, must-YouTube and must-tweet.

If LeBron had mapped this all out on purpose, I think I could come around to respecting him for how he handled the free agency he so obviously made the top priority of his NBA career. Did he want to cast himself as a villain in every NBA market except the one he eventually picked? He couldn't have done better if he had consciously tried. He orchestrated that whole bartering of the news to put all the eyes on him -- but whether it was his intention or not, he also succeeded in making sure that all eyes would stay on him all season, in ways that the NBA has never seen.


Only a few candidates in NBA history vie for that honor. There were the last three Chicago Bulls championships, in which Michael Jordan came out of retirement, won, then tangled with Jerry Reinsdorf every offseason over what it would take to get him back for another year. Every season -- 1996, '97 and '98 -- was up in the air over whether it would be his last. Every moment of every one of those seasons blew every other sports story out of the sky like a laser taking out a missile, from the start of the 72-win year to the push-off on Bryan Russell in Salt Lake City.

Lakers04.jpgAnd even that paled in comparison to the indisputably most-riveting season of my lifetime -- not just of the NBA, but of any sport, and yes, that includes you, perfection-chasing Patriots:

The 2003-04 season. The Year of the Lakers.

You think, and understandably so (since it's my entire premise), that this season with the Three Mi-Egos in South Florida is The Young and the Restless? The '04 Lakers season makes that look like According to Jim.

Shame on all of us, in this day and age of instant communication, media and networking at our disposal at all times, that the Lakers' season was never turned into a reality show, miniseries, movie, book, even online serial. It was a year of pure, undiluted madness.

(At this point, I offer my sincerest apologies and condolences to the L.A. beat writers and broadcasters who covered this on a daily basis. I saw a lot of that team and the mayhem surrounding it, but from a distance, writing columns in San Francisco about it and talking my way into as many trips south as I could manage. What I'm describing as fun and entertaining, alternated from day to day between a root canal and a proctology exam for those who had to report on it. Consolation: you can now sit back and laugh at the Miami beat writers all year.)

A brief recap of that season:

Kobe Bryant's rape trial and the trips back and forth to Colorado for court appearances, often on game days.

The boiling over of his feud with Shaquille O'Neal.

His upcoming opt-out on his contract, and Shaq's push for an extension.

The arrival of Karl Malone and Gary Payton as free agents to form that decade's version of a super-team.

Phil Jackson's public pondering of departure after the season.

His now-full-blown romance with the owner's daughter.

Malone's knee injury, a development that absolutely no one could have seen coming or was prepared for.

The first Staples-to-Colorado roundtrip, punctuated not only by Kobe's arrival to eventually hit a buzzer-beater to win the game, but by a heart-stopper of a courtside mid-game interview with Nicole Richie.

The All-Star Weekend in L.A., allowing the world to get a heavy, three-day concentration of the lunacy.

Entering the playoffs without home-court advantage in the West.

Derek Fisher in San Antonio with 0.4 on the clock.

Reaching the Finals in spite of themselves, and arriving as overwhelming favorites to torpedo Detroit and justify all that had gone on before.

Blowing Game 1 at home, then having Kobe save them in Game 2.

Kobe's one-on-five abomination in Game 4 in Detroit, placing the last brick in the wall between him and his teammates.

The shocking Pistons' clincher in Game 5, and the alarms and bells in the post-game interviews alerting all that this Lakers' team was about to be detonated.

And finally, the detonation itself: Shaq being traded to Miami, Phil walking away, Kobe filing for free-agency anyway, Malone retiring, Payton slinking away ...

How much of an imprint did that season leave? I recalled all of that off the top of my head, without looking anything up.

If somehow, the Miami Heat of 2010-11 manage to top all of that, then again -- despite the unprecedented deed of making a move to take less money in exchange for a championship seem crass and tasteless -- we must salute you, LeBron.

Just remember that, like everything else you're aiming at this season, the bar has been set high. The immortals of the '04 Lakers still hold the court, and you've got next.

Photos: New York Daily News, NBA

You can find me on FanHouse here. You can also find my book on Tommie Smith here, and on Dr. Miles McAfee here.

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