For years, LeBron James has relied on an ever-expanding headband to both capture the buckets of sweat that drip off his head during an NBA game and attempt (and fail) to cover up his receding hairline. James' headband has become both a national punchline and a sought-after souvenir, a giant and unavoidable part of the MVP's profile (literally), an accessory and affectation without which it seems odd to imagine James on the court.
And yet, just like that, it went away during the fourth quarter of Game 6 ... yet LeBron soldiered on.
It happened on an offensive rebound and putback dunk of a Mario Chalmers miss at the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter to cut the Spurs' lead to 80-77:
The moment itself, via an endlessly repeating Vine:
"I don't even remember the play much," James said after the game. "I was just focused on the job, the task at hand, and just trying to be aggressive, just trying to figure out ways I could help the team get back into the game. And you know, I guess the headband was the least of my worries at that point."
The Heat had already begun their comeback before James lost his headband — it started to stir in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, when a pair of James free throws stemmed an 18-7 Spurs run and cut what had been a 12-point San Antonio lead to 10 heading into the fourth. From there, a big Chalmers 3 on the opening possession of the fourth, a LeBron layup and an instant-classic one-shoe/one-sock 3-pointer by Mike Miller got the game within two possessions and the Heat within hailing distance. Things did seem to pick up after the revelation of 'Bron's (ample) brow, though.
After the terrycloth unburdening and a San Antonio answer on the other end by Kawhi Leonard (who continues to be great in this series, final-minute free-throw miss aside), James got straight to the rim on consecutive possessions and hit one of two layups to keep Miami within three. Then, he fired a crazy bullet pass out of the high post and over the top of Tony Parker to Chris Andersen for a dunk attempt that created two free throws, which Birdman split to make the score 82-80. After that, he came flying off the weak-side to pick up a huge at-the-rim block on Tim Duncan, which he followed up by driving on Duncan, pump-faking him into the air, and going up, under and off the glass to tie the game. James looked lighter, more at ease ... perhaps sleeker and less wind-resistant.
There were dicey moments to come, for sure. After having his stride broken by an offensive foul, a couple of empty Dwyane Wade-helmed possessions, a pair of Heat timeouts and some (but, alas, not enough) brilliant shot-making by Tony Parker, James committed two bad turnovers in an 11-second span that helped put the Spurs up by five, 94-89, with 28 seconds remaining. (That's the deficit that sent quite a few faint-of-heart Heat fans streaming for the exits.)
James bounced back, though, hitting a huge 3-pointer with 20 seconds left to bring the Heat within two, setting the stage for Ray Allen's game-tying triple to send Game 6 into overtime. Once there, he assisted on four of Miami's eight OT points and scored two himself, hitting the go-ahead leaner with 1:43 remaining.
All told, after a fairly shaky first three quarters in which he missed nine of 12 shots, James finished with 32 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and three steals in just under 50 minutes of play, posting his second triple-double of these Finals and his fourth career title-round triple-double, and running his career averages in potential elimination games to 31.5 points, 10 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game in 12 contests. Fourteen points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and the Duncan block came after the headband came off.
They also came — or, a lot of them, anyway — with Wade on the bench and James sharing the floor with Chalmers, Allen, Miller and Chris Andersen. That's the floor-spacing and defensively active five-man unit that crushed San Antonio in the second half of Game 2 but had been mothballed since; after Wade's return for Miller at the 3:48 mark, the Spurs went on a 10-2 run that nearly cost Miami the game.
What kickstarted things was probably the headband, though. Either that or what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called after the game "an absolute desperation and will." You pick your favorite; I'm going with the one that keeps the sweat out of my eyes.
The big question heading into Thursday's Game 7, obviously, is whether James will succumb to superstition and choose to continue to play without his infamous accessory. I think he should. You don't mess with a winning streak, LeBron, even if said streak is just one game. Also, if you win a championship with your receding hairline struggle uncovered and uncowed — just out there in front of the eyes of God and the world and everyone — then you'll have overcome the source of perhaps the most withering LeBron jokes of all.
It's time, LeBron. Let your freak forehead flag fly, and let the chips fall where