The Cleveland Cavaliers were embarrassed by the Indiana Pacers in Game 1. A nervous and discontented home crowd let its frustration be known. Northeastern Ohio panic buttons are being mashed with finger-spraining speed. Collectively, the media is doubting LeBron James and beginning to etch the first letters on this problem-ridden Cavs team’s tombstone.
Have we not learned our lesson?
Writing the obituary for a man with eight NBA Finals appearances — and seven straight — seems like a premature exercise. Even if his current team is obviously flawed, disjointed, and through one game, gasp, overmatched. To do so is to override all the trust equity he’s built up in his career with 48 minutes of basketball.
And I get it. It’s a human reaction and an impulse driven by the reactionary content machine. Add to off-court turmoil to the lackluster hardwood product and one could think a perfect storm is building, destined to sweep the Cavs out to sea and whisk Cleveland’s favored sun to safer port.
Concerns are valid. But part of the reason this feels different is because it’s such a deviation. This is the first time James has lost the first playoff game at home. This is the first opening-round loss, overall, in the last 22 games. People are getting that “what do I do with my hands” feeling and channeling it into writing Chicken Little pieces about the final days of the hometown hero.
We haven’t known a truly vulnerable James in a long time. One need look no further than Chicago for answers about what to expect. Three different times the Bulls have taken Game 1 from James. All three times he responded to win the series. It’s been awhile since he was in this position in the opening round, but it’s not entirely new.
“I’ve always stayed even-keeled with the postseason,” he said after Sunday’s debacle. “I mean, I’m down 0-1 in the first round. I was down 3-1 in the Finals. So I’m the last guy to ask about how you’re going to feel the next couple days.”
Dismiss the cockiness of that retort if you wish. The content is instructive.
In good times and in bad, the traditional rules don’t apply to James. He’s capable of doing things no one else does and, conversely, allowing his attitude to catalyze an existing tough situation.
More often than not, though, he’s delivered with consistency most humans only wish to sustain. Are you sure you want to doubt him, even if the eye and gut test feels like it’s leaning toward a different result next time?
Examine the situation in reverse. Is your faith in Victor Oladipo and — checks notes — Bojan Bogdanovic continuing to play at this level the entire series strong enough to set aside the built-up trust James has erected?
That, my friend, would be bravery.
The sky is not falling on James. It just has a few cracks. History teaches me he’ll be out there in Game 2 with all types of spackle.