Memo to the Heat:
If you aren’t already, please ignore the sporting press. We’re ridiculous.
Did you see the horror that the New York Times wrought with the Western Conference Finals? Game five was a monster, almost certainly the most compelling game of the Playoffs so far. (No offense to y’all.) It was a brutal and beautiful contest between two evenly-matched teams who fought and suffered and lost and won right down to the last 10 crazy-making seconds, when Manu Ginobili coulda-but-didn’t make the very same clutch 3-pointer that James Harden had nailed a minute earlier. The Thunder won. The Spurs lost. It didn’t have to be that way, for it’s a fact that Ginobili often makes 3-pointers and James Harden often misses them. Basketball can be random; basketball players can get unlucky. Your own Shane Battier made a similar point when he said: “It’s a game of errors … you don’t play the results. You play the process and you live with it.”
But the sporting press can’t recognize that, because to recognize it would make it rather difficult for people like the Times‘ Harvey Araton to fill their inches. Of Ginobili’s game-losing shot, he wrote:
We can imagine what [the Thunder's Kevin] Durant would have done in that setting. We saw what Ginobili and his teammates could not do and why the Spurs — best known for flying under the publicity radar — may no longer be capable of soaring to championship heights.
All that and more from a misplaced finger, an unsettled foot, a momentary loss of balance. It’s a meager thing to balance a column on, never mind a championship.
Of course – and unfortunately, if you ask me – Araton was right. The Spurs won’t be winning any championships this year. And neither will you, if you let the press and the public get in your heads. You’ve played all season like we were there already – LeBron and Wade especially, both of whom looked like they were grimly playing past a chorus of hecklers no one else could hear – and now you’re all a little bonkers. There was a frightened-animal look in LeBron’s eyes on Tuesday that I didn’t like at all.
Reading the papers will not banish that look, for in your moment of crisis the papers are treating you even more hideously than they did the Spurs, and are in the process of turning even your nicer characteristics into liabilities. For instance, the rather magnanimous statement LeBron made after Tuesday’s loss in Miami:
We played good enough to give ourselves a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for.
Good on LeBron for acknowledging that he can’t just wish his way to victory over the Celtics! And good on him for acknowledging that sometimes he can’t even will his way to victory – not if the other guy’s willing his way to victory, too. What admirable humility, says I! Alas, the rest of the press was less impressed. From NBCSports:
… it’s not all you can ask for, it’s not all LeBron or Miami should ask for. Winning is all you can ask for.
… there still seems to be a sense around the Heat that they thought this would be easier, that their adversities would melt away and they could claim their rings. That’s not how it works. You have to become better, you have to reach new levels, you have to strive to overcome to reach your goals. Obstacles do not melt away. You have to overcome them.
For the record, I’m not convinced that people who scribble sports reportage for a living can credibly lecture LeBron James on the meaning of professional fortitude or mental toughness. But I am convinced that LeBron wouldn’t find the presumption amusing. I suggest keeping him away from computers until late tonight.
Also keep him away from the Miami Herald, where Dan LeBatard, a smart dude and a fine writer, last night declared LeBron on the verge of a paranoid meltdown. Who knows, he might be. If so, reading about it won’t help. If LeBron must read the paper, hand him a Herald from last week – the one in which LeBatard wrote a touching paean to the Wade/James friendship. That’s a nice, no-pressure thing to think about, and that’s a good thing. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get knocked from the Playoffs tonight, and whatever’s brought you to this queasy precipice, it’s not an absence of pressure. If you lose, the sporting press might claim exactly the opposite – they might say you lacked the “will to win,” or some other clichéd intangible. If I had to guess, though, I’d figure you have too much will, and the burden of expectation isn’t helping. Try to ignore that. Try to lighten up, is what I’m saying. Try to remember: At some point, you thought basketball was a game, and you liked it.