“Not one. Not two. Not three, not four, not five, not six ... not seven. And when I say that, I really believe it.”
— LeBron James, July 9, 2010
He could have stopped counting at “not one.”
Unless, of course, he was counting missed shots or turnovers in the fourth quarter during the NBA finals.
But alas, the NBA’s most reviled villain was actually ticking off expected titles in a pre-championship Miami celebration — before having a single practice with his new teammates — and less than 24 hours after going on national TV to stroke his own ego while stabbing his former teammates, coaches and loyal fans right in the heart.
In a twisted, backward, convoluted way, I almost feel sorry for the Dallas Mavericks today.
When history tells the story of the 2011 NBA finals, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd will certainly get all the credit they deserve for a stirring six-game victory over the Miami Heat to claim their first NBA championship, but for the next several months — not one, not two, not three and not just four of them — this series is going to be less about what Dallas did than it is about what James and the Heat did not do.
Yes, years from now, NBA historians will educate young fans and remind older ones that finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, one of the finest players the game has ever seen, overcame a terrible night of shooting to score 10 crucial points in the fourth in leading his team to the title-clinching victory.
Today, however, the focus will be on how James, one of the finest players the game has ever seen, scored just two points in the final 19 minutes of the first half after a good start, and did not score his first points of the second half until there were less than two minutes left in the third quarter. He did score a quiet seven points in the fourth, to bring his fourth-quarter scoring total in six finals games to 18.
Nowitzki had 62.
When time has passed, basketball fans will truly respect the effort of future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, whose nine points, eight assists and two huge 3s helped steady the Mavs when they were out of sync.
But for now, the spotlight will remain on future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, who is nine years younger than Kidd, but who ran out of gas and miracles for the Heat.
Forced to counter James’ passivity with his own over-aggressiveness, he turned the ball over and could not hit the big shots he needed to in the fourth. Wade will need weeks of chiropractic care to heal the damage done to his back while trying to carry James to a Game 7.
In time, Terry will be remembered for his 11 of 16 shooting, and especially his 8 of 10 first half, which kept the Mavs on top while Nowitzki struggled to find his range. Terry’s 27-foot dagger in James’ face near the end of Game 5 will be replayed on a loop on NBA finals history documentaries, just like it will be every time James closes his eyes this offseason.
For now, though, it will be the distant third member of Miami’s “Big Three,” Chris Bosh, trying to figure out why his 7 of 9 shooting and 19 points were meaningless, as his higher-profile buddies couldn’t or wouldn’t join the fight to make their preseason celebration a reality.
And when the final story of the 2010-11 NBA season is written, it will be said with accuracy that virtually everyone got what they wished for: Nowitzki, Kidd and Dallas owner Mark Cuban got their long-awaited championship rings; James got to play in the sun with his buddies; Cleveland fans vicariously got their revenge; and America got a champion worth celebrating.
Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.