2006-11-17 / Sports

Cavaliers' James Is The King Of the NBA Court

By John Buro

NEW YORK -On the basketball court, LeBron James is dubbed 'The King'. The name is an obvious play on any of the seven regal King Jameses who had ruled England and Scotland centuries ago. Of course, James could also squeeze into another moniker, but LBJ was already a reference to Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States.

Thus, it's a good thing that James doesn't have an identity crisis. He understands what is expected of him, even before the Cleveland Cavaliers selected first in the 2003 NBA Draft.

At the ripe old age of 18, James was about to turn the best professional basketball league in the world upside down. More than the three years later, he has yet to disappoint.

Without ever winning a championship, he has become the face of a new NBA. In a preseason poll, the league's General Managers voted James as the No. 1 player they would build their team around. The 71% vote was extremely lopsided, given that Dwyane Wade, the Most Valuable Player of last season's Finals, garnered a meager 11% -as the runner-up. Even during the prime of Shaquille O'Neal's career -before the 2003 season, after winning his third consecutive Finals MVP- he was only listed on 64% of the ballots.

Clearly, the Cavaliers, who were bested in a grueling seven game Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Detroit Pistons, are on the rise. Before last year, they had not qualified for the postseason since 1998. Then, Cleveland whipped past the Washington Wizards in six, winning the last two games in overtime, to advance against the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons, who had represented the Eastern Conference in the past two Finals -winning it all in 2005- won the first two games on their home floor. But, the Cavs roared back to win three straight -Detroit's first such losing streak all season. Game Six offered Cleveland a unique opportunity to close out the series in front of a delirious home crowd.

But, an 84-82 loss merely shifted the set back to the Motor City, where a 79-61 loss ended the Cavaliers' hopes. James averaged 30.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists for the 13-game playoff run. That failure, however, has only inspired the Cleveland organization further. Now, at 5-2, they have quickly assumed command of the top spot in the Central Division.

"We're one of the better teams in the entire NBA, not just the East," said James, the 21 year-old megastar whose leadership transcends far beyond the stat sheet. "Every time we step onto the court, we should approach it that way. We just can't talk the talk; we've got to walk the walk, too."

James has been taking that walk from his days as a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School [Akron, Ohio]. His appearance in SLAM Magazine, a national basketball publication, was just the start of his exposure. That was a little more than five years ago.

In fact, had James decided to opt for a college education, he would, in all likelihood, be the best college player in the country. As opposed to being the best player in the NBA. When he was dubbed 'The Chosen One' by Sports Illustrated in February 2002, he became the first high school basketball player on its cover since Kevin Garnett.

"LeBron brings a lot of different dimensions to the game," teammate Drew Gooden validated. "He can pass, he can score in many different ways, and he can rebound. He is our team leader, and is consistent night in and night out.

"In our last game against the Boston Celtics [two days earlier], LeBron showed that one player can make a team much better. Nobody had anything in the tank, and he used everything he had left to lead us to victory."

James had scored 25 of his game-high 38 points in the second half, and added eight boards and five dimes, as the Cavaliers recovered from a 19-point deficit to win, 94-93. He was also 19 of 23 from the charity stripe, whereas the Celtics were a collective 19 of 25.

On Monday, on the road against the troubled New York Knicks, he matched teammate Damon Jones for game-high honors with 29 points in a 102-96 win, despite finishing the first quarter with two points on one-of-four shooting.

"He did his thing down the stretch, as usual," Jones said.

While the Knicks have several quality players, they don't have anyone in James' stratosphere. The good news, here, is that they are not the only team missing out. In the NBA, there are only a handful of players who can make the difference between a winning and losing operation.

Interestingly enough, according to Mike Brown, Cleveland's second-year Head Coach, the basketball side of James is not what he speaks of first.

"First and foremost, LeBron is a tremendous individual, so all this other stuff becomes unique. I sit on the bench and watch him, and I still get caught up in the moment. And, because he isn't selfish, his numbers are within the flow of the game."

James' court vision, the Knicks' David Lee suggests, is why he is so difficult to defend. "He has the ability to make the pass, and is very tenacious -particularly in the fourth quarter," said the sophomore power forward, who knows a little about tenacity himself. "LeBron gets his team involved, and then takes over when it's time.

He's continually getting better and is a fun opponent to play against."

Even if it usually leads to a royal beating.

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