The roster apocalypse plaguing the Cleveland Cavaliers might be the best thing that could happen to the legacy of LeBron James.
Sports fans love their dominance served with a degree of difficulty.
They most cherish the fevered Michael Jordan — pumped full of liquids, antibiotics and anti-gravity potions — in the 38-point Game 5 outburst in ’97 against the Jazz.
They memorialize Willis Reed dragging a lifeless leg onto the Madison Square Garden court in the Knicks’ 1970 Game 7 Finals win over the Lakers.
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And so, if James can carry his lesser-known Cavaliers teammates, the city of Cleveland and the National Basketball Association on his back and defeat the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 Finals, it will be most memorable performance of a career guaranteed to be among the greatest in the history of the game.
A few years down the road, fans will remember James’ heroics in the face of injuries to nearly every other Cav on the roster, and how he was joined on the court by four players who were selected at random out of the crowd.
Weren’t they guys with names like Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov. And Matthew Helluvadribbla.
But everybody will remember King James. (His title will be made official, at least everywhere but Seattle.)
Nobody will remember his modest shooting percentage or a few missed crunch-time shots along the way. The numbers will stand: the 41-point average in the first three games, and the 2-1 advantage the Cavs forged without his two best teammates.
It will be remembered that All-Star forward Kevin Love was lost in the first round to a shoulder separation, and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving went out with a fractured knee cap in Game 1 of the Finals.
A result of those losses was the freeing of James to take over without anybody suggesting he’s hogging the ball, or he’s showing too much of an ego. It’s pretty clear to all that James taking 107 shots in three games is the best way for the Cavaliers to beat Golden State, which had the best record in the NBA this season.
James’ annual gaudy display of physical skills has become so expected that it rarely seems as if he has to work hard. In his last four trips to the Finals, with Miami, he shared the stage with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The two championships in that span were bought on the free agent market, and the result of a cluster of stars — not just James.
This time, though, in his home town, with the team’s other stars sitting around as orthopedic patients? This is all about LeBron.
Some of the fill-ins have surprised. Guard Matthew Dellavedova, particularly, has been effective with his relentless and aggressive underdoggery. He’s still new to the national sports consciousness.
But Gonzaga fans saw more of Dellavedova than they’d like to recall, as he helped Saint Mary’s earn three NCAA tournament bids out of the West Coast Conference. He was obviously talented, and was the kind of scrappy guy who was easy for opponents to despise.
That’s still his job, as he’s steadily annoyed Warriors star and league MVP Stephen Curry into uncharacteristically erratic shooting (2 for 15 on 3-pointers in Game 2).
So, it hasn’t actually been as singularly about James as it seems, but he doesn’t seem to mind the idea of his taking over.
“I’m so outside the box right now,” he said. No, it’s not the style that is his norm, but it’s Cleveland’s best chance of winning.
And that could make it the most memorable and defining Finals performance of his career.