It’s OK to admit it: You are absolutely loving LeBron James’ struggles in the NBA Finals.
You woke up happy Friday morning, fresh off another James meltdown in Game 5, when the only points he scored in the final period came on a worthless layup in the closing moments as Dallas’ defense parted like the Red Sea.
Unless you are one of the few who can honestly say you’re done with all this, that you could not care less either way, you are bashing James again today, calling him LeQuit in your best moments, unprintable things in your worst.
Knowing the Mavericks are up 3-2 and can eliminate James and the Miami Heat with a win Sunday night in Game 6, you are giddy with excitement.
You are basking in James’ many failures — his eight-point effort in Game 4, his repeat disappearance despite a triple-double (17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in Game 5, which he had called the most important game of his life, his almost total inability to do anything positive for his team in the clutch.
You love that Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki has 52 points in the fourth quarter of the finals. Even more, you love that James has only 11, including six over the last four games.
You can see him choking right in front of your eyes, refusing to take jumpers yet also unable to get to the line, which he has visited just 16 times in the finals compared to 44 in a 4-1 Eastern Conference finals win over Chicago.
You don’t need numbers to validate your point that he is stinking up the joint, but they are certainly there: 34-for-75 shooting from the field (.453), 7-for-23 on 3-pointers (.304), 11-for-16 at the line (.688), 18 turnovers.
You don’t need a calculator to tell you 75 shot attempts is an average of just 15 per game, a total James used to take in one half when he was the undisputed alpha dog in Cleveland.
You don’t need statistical proof. You, to use an old Bill Belichick phrase, can simply go by what you are seeing.
And that makes you happy, very happy. You sometimes wonder why you are taking so much pleasure in another person’s failure, but you can’t help it. That’s just the way it is, and you take comfort in knowing you are not alone in feeling this way.
You love it when James is called for traveling and everyone in the world knows he walked, but he questions the call anyway like some spoiled brat.
You rejoice when he clanks yet another 3-pointer or is whistled for charging.
You’ve never enjoyed watching someone do so little so much.
The last 5:59 of Game 5, when James had no rebounds, no assists, a turnover and just those two meaningless points? They were exactly what you were hoping for.
After his Game 4 debacle, you feared James might come out and put up 35 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists to lead Miami to a Game 5 victory. The fact he didn’t — the fact he actually did nothing when it mattered most — only adds to your joy.
You may have high-fived the stranger sitting next to you if you watched Game 5 at a local watering hole. If you were at home, you might have woke up the wife — or the husband — with a sudden scream when Jason Terry hit that deep, clutch 3-pointer.
Again, you could not help it.
You are so close to getting what you want — to James not getting what he wants — that you can taste it.
Yet you are also nervous.
Don’t lie. You are.
You are a long-suffering Cleveland pro sports fan, and if you’ve learned one thing, it is to fear the worst, even when one of your teams is not directly involved.
Now playing at home — or at least his team’s home — you know the basically homeless James could go off Sunday in Game 6 and put up monster numbers across the board.
If that happens and Miami wins, you know there’s a chance it could happen again in Game 7.
You have this unshakable fear — and the thought of it is gut-wrenching — of James suddenly being hailed as the hero, of all the national talking heads yakking about how he rose above his struggles and showed his true greatness, of watching him do an on-court interview as an NBA champion.
That would be the absolute worst. That’s exactly what you don’t want. Not now. Not when you’re so close to getting what you do want.
You are so hopeful and so helpless all at once. You know it’s just a game and you’ll still have to wake up and go to work the next day, but you can’t help it: You want James to lose, and you’d love it even more if he played horribly while doing so.
Oh, how you’d love it.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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