You and I are the average American. We go to work, we drink, we go to hot new restaurants and buy the hottest trendiest clothes.
We also idolize figures that seem larger than life to us and sometimes even have a Superman complex that we wish we could have. We do this more so with athletes especially. How many times have we lauded over Brett Favre’s streak of not missing a game or Cal Ripken’s? How much do we admire hockey players who get gashes under their eyes, have their teeth knocked out and still finish the rest of their games? Hell, if most of us have a toothache we’re ready to call out of work and lay in our beds like babies.
The flipside to that is we hate athletes that do the things that we do when a situation gets too hot. We trash Manny Ramirez for not running out groundballs knowing we’d probably do the same thing on a routine grounder, we criticize Allen Iverson for refusing to be a bit player when his skills are gone knowing full and well if we were asked to take a step back at our jobs we would throw a fit.
In sports we want the extraordinary and we loath the ordinary.
If you don’t believe me then watch last night’s game 4 of The NBA Finals and tell me who you appreciate more, Dirk Nowitzki or LeBron James?
The stats tell one story; the game told a different one. Yes James led his team with 9 rebounds and 7 assists, yes Nowitzki shot 6-19 and missed 10 of 11 at one point due to the affects of a fever that crippled him throughout the game, however one was fighting through the motions, the other was going though them.
Nowitzki wasn’t half of himself last night as he sniffled, coughed and wheezed through every single second of the game swallowing as much water as he could to stay hydrated and routinely throwing a towel over his head to cool off. It was reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s game 5 performance against the Utah Jazz in 1997 except Jordan put up Jordanesque numbers.
Nowitizki started hot then went ice cold, even missing his first free throw of the Finals in the third quarter. Yet when the fourth quarter arrived Dirk somehow became Dirk again. Even though his jumper wasn’t falling Nowitzki still got to the free throw line and hit two layups for another stellar fourth quarter that also included him grabbing 6 rebounds and helping Tyson Chandler control the boards and keep the Heat off of the offensive glass and control their second chance points.
(Side note: the MVP of this game was Tyson Chandler. He provided the Mavs with some much needed toughness inside and was able to cancel Miami’s rebounding edge that they had possessed all series long. He had 9 offensive rebounds and 16 total, which led all players on the court. If he can repeat that performance and Jason Terry and Deshawn Stevenson can hit their three’s again then the Mavs can win this series even though they have looked like the inferior team.)
Nowitzki has shown all series, all playoffs how much winning a title means to him. He’s pulled Dallas from the brink time and time again and has shown the spirit that makes a champion. Last night he added another chapter to his legacy by fighting through a debilitating cold, a poor shooting night and somehow contributed a double-double and led the Mavs in the fourth quarter to a series tying victory. Those are the kind of performances that makes us fall in love with an athlete.
The performance of James makes us despise them.
8 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, no that’s not Udonis Haslem’s line, nor is it Mario Chalmers’s line, it was that of LeBron James, King James, The Chosen One or whatever you want to call him. He was none of that last night.
It evoked memories of last year’s game 4 meltdown versus The Boston Celtics when James was still a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. James looked lost, dazed and at times uninterested. He was as ordinary as you could get. He made one basket that wasn’t a layup or a dunk. James was poor defensively allowing Shawn Marion to continue his Finals rebirth with another stellar performance he was invisible.
He let Dwyane Wade carry the load, he let Chris Bosh own the first half, hell he let Mario Chalmers upstage him defensively. LeBron James shrunk in the moment, again.
There is no excuse for James to play like this on such a huge stage in a game where Miami could’ve put Dallas to sleep for good. Wade showed up and put together another amazing performance that featured two monster blocks that were as impressive as his 32 points. Bosh dominated the first half with 16 points and looked like a younger and more slender version of Karl Malone.
But the key to this loss wasn’t Wade’s inability to finish, it wasn’t Bosh’s second half struggles, it was James’s disappearance.
How can you be considered one of the game’s greatest players and a future hall of famer when on the stage of your sport’s biggest event you were no better than a bit player like Stevenson? Performances like this are made for the Byron Russell’s of the world. They can have minimal amounts of aggression and score in the single digits while contributing in other areas. James can’t.
Enough of the “Magic Johnson” James in some games and the “Michael Jordan” James in the others, it has to be one or the other for James. You’re either a dominant scorer or a facilitator for others. You can’t be one on one night and the other the next.
You understand Dirk poor game shooting the ball, the man had a 102 degree fever and wasn’t even 60% of himself. The difference between him and James is that he was engaged he was ready to shoot even though he couldn’t move as well as normal. He came ready to go no matter what. James talked a good game to his mates before the game then did the opposite during it.
James’s act resembled a performance that I would put on while trying to miss school with a little sniffle or you would do while trying to miss work with a headache.
Dirk went into the office with a fever that no doctor would ever allow the normal person to work under and he balled out when it mattered and carried his team to victory on his weak shoulders.
Who would rather idolize, the guy that’s just like you or the guy that did something you or I couldn’t do?