Back before he became an omnipresent destroyer of worlds, LeBron James would come onto the court after pregame introductions with the somewhat imposing, largely unnecessary routine of throwing a handful of chalk in the air at the scorer's table. It was a sign to herald the arrival of the man to whom we were all to be witnesses. It was a little ridiculous, but also somewhat fitting on the nights when LeBron justified every superlative ever lavished upon him.
Since joining the Miami Heat, James has slowly moved away from the chalk toss, dumping it for the 2011 playoffs, bringing it back the next season, and largely eschewing it since. It's been absent from his pregame routine for much of his historically great 2012-13 season, and it looks as if he's left it in the past. These days, his mere presence announces itself.
However, the chalk toss is not absent from the Heat's routine. In the past few weeks, with LeBron sitting out many games in anticipation of the playoffs, several Heat reserves have picked up his chalk slack. From Ethan Skolnick for The Palm Beach Post (via TBJ):
These days — on the nights he plays — he waits out warmups on the midcourt line, intensely staring at the floor.
Over the past few weeks, however, four of his teammates have resurrected his ritual, tossing the powder together as they gather underneath.
“I think it was mostly J.J.,” Ray Allen said of James Jones.
“We just started doing it,” Jones said, also referring to Mike Miller and Rashard Lewis. “I had never used it. Nothing special.”
“It’s part of the routine now,” Lewis said.
This gang of four has started a combined 21 games this season (all between Miller and Lewis), so the chalk toss doesn't have quite the same drama as when LeBron used it to introduce himself to the crowd. For these four, they're really just getting themselves all chalky before returning to the bench.
The good news is that they're pretty clearly treating it like a joke, and chances are it won't last much longer. Teams can have this sort of fun when they're 10 1/2 games up on the second-place team in the conference and already locked into homecourt advantage throughout the postseason. If I had to guess, the Heat won't continue non-LeBron chalk-tossing once the playoffs start, because they'll be a lot more serious in those games.
In a way, the chalk toss is now a special treat for Heat players, a goofy reward for playing so well that regular-season games are mere formalities. Maybe, in time, LeBron will return to it for the same reasons. It's no longer a statement of intent, but a funny reminder of a time when everything surrounding LeBron James was a lot more controversial.