On Tuesday afternoon, Daily News Knicks beat writer Frank Isola, having nothing better to do with the NBA playoffs unfolding, took it upon himself to hector Cavs beat writer Brian Windhorst. Isola asked his colleague, who has covered LeBron James since high school, how it felt to be hours away from what could be the King's final home game in Cleveland.
Windhorst responded with a flash of anger and it seemed like just another instance of a New Yorker getting their kicks by teasing flyover country. How quickly things can change in a matter of hours.
James played perhaps his worst game ever on Tuesday night, the Celtics played well and the Cavaliers went down to a 120-88 loss that wasn't even that close. Now it's off to Boston to try to beat a veteran team that's been to the dance before and has played this entire series a full step ahead of the favorites. The home crowd wasn't happy and let James know it with a cascade of boos, a stunning response from a group that has placed a good bit of their psychic health on his staying in town for the long haul.
It felt like a watershed moment in James's career, either because he'll raise his game and win this series to reestablish his spot in the basketball stratosphere or because it will be the first of many times he's booed as a returning player. Mostly, though, it felt like the moment where things come to a painful end. James's response to the crowd was far different than the usual spouts of hometown pride that pass his lips.
"I spoil a lot of people with my play," James said. "When you have a bad game here or there, you've had three bad games in a seven-year career, then it's easy to point that out. So you got to be better."
There's been a swift reaction to the game, much of it negative and much of it pointed at James.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports breaks it down thusly: LeBron cares about too many things other than basketball and that's why he'll never be a winner like Jordan or Kobe. He's too selfish to succeed, he's not willing to work hard enough and he isn't willing to be accountable when he comes up short.
If all that's true, then you can already put a down payment on your James jersey in orange and blue. If basketball's not your entire life, you certainly are going to choose New York over Cleveland. Even if it's only part of your life, it's pretty hard to see where you're getting a lot from remaining in Ohio.
It's a scathing piece, all the more so because it is based on one game of evidence against an entire career.
It also ignores the moments that don't fit the thesis. It ignores Game Five of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals when James broke a 2-2 tie with 48 points, nine rebounds and seven assists away from home in a game his team absolutely had to have. It ignores the Herculean effort he put forth the next year against Boston when his teammates couldn't do a damn thing to help him and it ignores every other night that James put his team on his back and willed them to victory.
James hasn't won yet, so it is easy to say he doesn't have what it takes to win. We get it, that's how sports works, whether it is fair or not, and James would wear this playoff loss like an albatross around his neck until he finds a way to change the story. No one but James can say how deeply that fire burns inside him, but plenty of guys who have that fire failed before finally triumphing. You can already hear the catcalls coming from corners of New York that say they don't want him anymore because he can't win the big one.
Seriously, though, who isn't willing to gamble that this series becomes the failed test that every hero must endure before rising to the heights expected of him?