Did you see what just happened there? His American side in tight against a surprising-for-the-wrong-reasons Lithuanian team (sprinkled with NBAers and deep with talent, not expected to have lost all but one game at this point in the tournament), down by two with about six minutes to play, LeBron James did what we had come to expect he would not do at the end of tight games: he put his team on his shoulders and took matters into his own quite gifted hands. James scored 9 of his 20 down the stretch, points that made all the difference in the Americans’ 5-point victory, and he did so by keeping the ball, not dishing. He drove, he shot, he played defence, and when Chris Paul stole an inbounds pass and caught James flying up the court, the 2011-12 NBA MVP put down a big ole dunk that seemed to put the Lithuanians in their place. Later, he dribbled the ball up the court with his eyes wide open, probing the Lithuanian defence for its vulnerabilities. Of course, when James decides to be on his game, there isn’t a team nor a defensive scheme in creation that isn’t rife with vulnerabilities.
THIS, PERHAPS, is the natural residue of success. The new title-owning James looks to be everything we ever dreamed, suspected, and feared he might be. He has learned to win. He has learned how not to lose.
Heading into the 2012-13 season, this bodes ill for the rest of the NBA.
AFTER THE EASE with which they handled France, and the ritual disembowelment of the Nigerian team, Team USA needed a challenge in order to sharpen their wits. Heretofore struggling but undeniably talented, the Lithuanians obliged by shooting with great accuracy, running their own pick-and-roll with great efficiency, and playing pesky enough defence to slow the American onslaught. They sensed the tournament needed a freakish upset, and so figured why not us.
The Americans shared the scoring duties with an admirable sense of democracy (LeBron, Durant, Melo and Deron Williams all in double digits), but when they needed a fearless sovereign it was King James who snatched the role. Maybe spending his off-days watching other Olympic champions being crowned has had an impact. It seems very likely he and the rest of Team USA are just days away from their own medal ceremony. LeBron appears to have decided that that will be the case, and at this point in time – given all he’s finally accomplished and everything he looks to have learned about himself and his own character – you don’t envy anybody about to try and tell him otherwise.