As the summer wears on, with training camps and preseason play still off in (what feels like) the distant future, we turn our attention to the past. Join us as we while away a few late-summer moments recalling some of the most scintillating slams of yesteryear, the most thunderous throwdowns ever to sear themselves into our memories. This is Dunk History.
Today, Joey Gulino on the time LeBron James seemed to make Cleveland every other sports city’s equal … or even higher.
To say the Cavaliers won the summer of 2014 is to say Theodore J. Stepien lacked the acuity to own a basketball team. Cleveland added the best player on the planet, a ludicrously versatile power forward and a spate of veteran role players to a roster that already included one of the best young players in the game and several up-and-comers. If championships were, in fact, won in the offseason, this would be the equivalent of the Cavs going 16-0 in the playoffs while winning every game by 20 points.
It’s silly to think LeBron James and Kevin Love won’t be the team’s most important acquisitions of the offseason. Silly. But another addition caught my eye this month: the addition of James Posey to the coaching staff. He still has a lot to prove on the sidelines, no question. But the memories of Posey the basketball player are still very fresh in my head. They’re dogged, obnoxious memories that frequently get in the way of others from LeBron’s first run in Cleveland. Which is to say, they’re emblematic of Posey’s defensive prowess.
Nobody has ever shut down LeBron James, but boy did Posey and the 2008 Boston Celtics muck things up. In the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, LeBron James shot 8 of 42 against the top-seeded Celtics and the Cavs were a ghastly minus-22 total with him on the floor. The customary Game 3 homecourt blowout came and went, and up next was a critical Game 4 for LeBron and company (mostly just LeBron).
Once again, Posey and the Celtics’ team defense, with Paul Pierce providing perimeter help and Kevin Garnett laying waste to any who dare enter the paint, limited LeBron’s effectiveness. James’ teammates came through as he racked up 13 assists – almost as many as the first two games of the series combined – but with two minutes remaining, things were still quite nervy at the Q.
Let me tell you something about Cleveland fans. These moments don’t happen for us, they happen to us. Except this time. Except when the greatest athlete to ever suit up for Cleveland exploded from Boston’s big green grip with no regard for the Celtic defenders, with no regard for the concept of basketball as a team game, with no regard for … well, you know.
Kevin Harlan’s forceful narration was the perfect punctuation. He said what nobody else in the moment could. Cavs fans could do nothing but scramble for inaudible exuberance. Celtics fans could do nothing but swear. Neutral fans could do nothing but shake their heads in appreciative disbelief. Doug Collins could do nothing but register the audible equivalent of slack-jawed astonishment.
The Cavs would go on to watch Game 5 slip away in the third quarter, then win a truly ugly Game 6 at home, and finally be reminded that one man can’t win a series by himself in Game 7. LeBron’s frustration with the second-round exit was the catalyst for roster upgrades that led to 60-win seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10, but more importantly, his appreciation for what Boston’s Big Three did together played a key role in him deciding to leave for Miami.
Now that he’s returned as one of history’s most polished, prolific basketball players, the time to win is now. The summer additions make this team an instant contender, no question. They also leave some gaping holes defensively. That’s why Posey caught my eye. If he can imprint his skill and wisdom in that regard, the Cavs have the potential to be as unstoppable as LeBron was on that signature dunk on that chilly Monday night in May 2008. A basketball machine, with complete and utter disregard.
More from BDL's Dunk History series:
• Shaq literally takes down the Nets
• Gerald Green turns off the lights
• John Starks, the Chicago Bulls and 'The Dunk'
• Tom Chambers rising like a Phoenix and taking orbit as a Sun
• Taj Gibson starts the break, then breaks Dwyane Wade
• Joakim Noah makes Paul Pierce a memory
• Baron Davis unloads on Andrei Kirilenko, moves beyond belief
• Michael Jordan embarrasses, like, all of the Knicks
• Spud Webb shocks the basketball world
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- LeBron James