By Connor Buestad (firstname.lastname@example.org)
At a certain point, when you hear something repeated over and over enough times, you start to believe it 100%. You just buy in completely and disregard all alternatives. I’m sure someone, somewhere, has proven this with a certified psychology experiment. Nevertheless, I did this with LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
Talk to anyone in the know about the NBA, especially two weeks ago, and propose an alternate scenario to the Heat boat-racing the field and cruising to an NBA title. What you’ll get in return is a “what have you been smoking” type look, followed by a laundry list of reasons why the Heat are unbeatable. How LeBron James is “a physical specimen that simply cannot be stopped.” How they have far too many weapons, how they reeled off a 27 game winning streak during the regular season. Even how “LeBron is better at the game of basketball than Michael Jordan.”
Fortunately, Fresno State product Paul George has stood up and had something to say about all of this, and by golly, it has been a pleasure to watch.
Rewind to last month and the Indiana Pacers were a marketer’s worst nightmare. The Pacers-Hawks first round series was billed as virtually unwatchable by the networks, as ESPN and Turner Sports wanted no part of it. Most games were relegated to NBA TV. Think of Knicks-Pacers in the 90’s on NBC, now imagine the opposite, and there you have Pacers-Hawks, Round 1.
Clearly, David Stern and co. were pulling hard for a Heat v. OKC NBA Finals, and who could blame them. Durant v. LeBron could, and still can, be the closest thing we’ve had to Bird v. Magic in quite a while. But god forbid if the Finals ended up being Pacers v. Spurs. The College Baseball Super Regionals on ESPN2 could potentially challenge those ratings.
Of course, this is sports, and there is a reason why you play the games. And after last night’s Pacer win in game 6, NBA fans will be granted a special treat on Monday, an Eastern Conference Finale featuring the untouchable, God-like LeBron James, vs upstart Paul George.
The media blitzkrieg began Saturday night and will continue up to tip-off on Monday, and the question is quite simple. Does LeBron re-announce his presence with authority and captivate America with a 35 point performance on the way to a resounding Heat win? Or does he try to get D Wade and Bosh involved too much, lose, and take all the blame?
Quietly, the even bigger story, is that Paul George has arrived on the scene out of nowhere and is primed to crash the NBA’s well crafted party.
Sure, Paul George has had a presence during All-Star Weekend in the past few years, and yes, he led the Pacers through an undeniably impressive 2012-2013 campaign, but taking LBJ the brink in the East Finals this early in his career seemed a bit of a stretch.
Palmdale, California, the desert community on the other side of the San Gabriel Mountains from LA, is where Paul George grew up, and it is safe to say he was never mistaken for a future NBA superstar. One of the few schools that came calling during George’s Senior year was Fresno State. Not the Fresno State of old that featured Jerry Tarkanian, Chris Herren, and Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston, but the Fresno State that was a fairly bad WAC team that was hardly a threat to make the NCAA’s come March.
In his two years in Fresno, George developed a singular reputation for being a talented dunk-artist, who routinely posterized victims up and down the West Coast. Perhaps his signature collegiate dunk came inside the hallowed grounds of McKeon Pavillion in Moraga, when the 6’8” swingman plastered St. Mary’s guard Mickey McConnell all over the Contra Costa Times Sports Page.
Inevitably knocked for being just another super-athlete who loved to dunk but couldn’t shoot, George instead found the focus to develop all aspects of his game, blossoming into a knockdown shooter, all the while never sacrificing great effort and effectiveness on the defensive end.
No one would ever accuse LeBron james of being a manufactured superstar created by the NBA to sell jerseys and tickets. Looking for substance over style? Look no further than LeBron. A player that produces, and produces, and produces. Yet there is no denying the fact that wherever LeBron has gone in his career, drama has followed (much of it self-imposed).
It has been written many times over that once LeBron got that monkey off his back and broke through and won his first title he would never look back and take a complete stranglehold of the league. This could very well still be the case. Take care of business at home vs the Pacers on Monday night, then cruise past the aging/boring Spurs in the Finals, and LeBron suddenly has two in a row, with a Jordan-esque three peat in the crosshairs. Lose to the likeable, understated, electrifying Paul George in Game 7, and the LeBron James/NBA story takes a major, major twist.
A LeBron-Durant title fight apparently wasn’t in the cards, but I’m confident an LBJ-Paul George bout under the bright lights of South Beach will do more than suffice.