Forever praised, forever damned, LeBron James rises once again

Forever praised, forever damned, LeBron James rises once again

SAN ANTONIO – LeBron James' pass flashed into the far corner, the proper play out of the planet's peerless player. Game on the line, the sport's unstoppable force on his way to the rim, and his eyes caught Chris Bosh awaiting the catch on the biggest shot of the season. They've forever praised James for this play, forever damned him – one more polarizing choice of the most polarizing athlete of our time.

For all the relentless debates and examinations – Just score the ball, LeBron! Just do it yourself! – James plays the game with a most unassailable code, with a most unwavering sense of loyalty and trust. Bosh had missed that corner 3-pointer in a playoff loss to Indiana, and it didn't matter in the moment of truth on Sunday night at the AT&T Center.

James had 35 points and 10 rebounds now, had brought the San Antonio Spurs to their knees in Game 2, the way cramps brought him to his own in Game 1. This was the final stroke of a Picasso, a 98-96 victory over the Spurs to tie these NBA Finals 1-1 on their way back to the shores of Biscayne Bay.

"It's the theater of the absurd when you're dealing with what plays he makes at the end of the game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

LeBron James totaled 35 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in Game 2. (AP)
LeBron James totaled 35 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in Game 2. (AP)

So, so perfect: the theater of the absurd. There's a robotic precision to his choices. They don't always work out – sometimes there's a make, sometimes a miss – but amazingly, most still stand up to the power of hindsight. Here it was, time running out, the Heat down a point, and once that San Antonio defense descended onto his drive – once Tim Duncan left Bosh in pursuit of James and the ball – LeBron whipped the pass into the far corner, out of his All-World hands and into those of an All-Star.

"Even if he's hot, he'll still hit you if you're wide open," Bosh said. "He's the most unselfish player I've ever played with."

This was a genius performance out of James, a superstar flexing at the apex of his abilities, the meshing of body and mind and experience that almost makes resistance futile.

The NBA doesn't have great rivalries right now. It doesn't have tremendously charismatic superstars in primes. There are some nice guys, spectacular talents, but James is the most transcendent in sports now. Mostly, there's him and everyone else; NBA storylines that are simply moons of James. The sheer pressure and prospect of catching the Heat combusted the Pacers. The Pacers weren't under a fraction of the scrutiny and pressure of these Heat, and yet they couldn't come close to withstanding it all. They fell apart.

Everyone watched the way the Heat crumbled in the final minutes without James in Game 1. Without him, they can't function at a high level. Yet, he's carrying so much more than that franchise. As much as ever, James carries the NBA. Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant stole James' MVP trophy this year, but he couldn't find his way to the Finals to steal James' championship. James is the best player. He's the social conscience, as comfortable speaking out on Trayvon Martin and Donald Sterling as he is versed on the history of the game and those who came before him.

Perhaps no one has clutched him tighter than his childhood friends, Rich Paul, the agent, and Maverick Carter, the marketing man. He has bankrolled the agency, the marketing company that included a guest at Sunday night's game wearing a backward Cleveland Cavaliers cap – Johnny Manziel.

Most times, James' inner circle moves easily through the corridors and news conferences where rival agents are rarely, if ever, credentialed in the NBA Finals. In the regular season and playoffs, you'll see star agents with the run of arenas, but never with league-issued passes. There are benefits to working with the King, and perhaps that's why Paul seemed so perplexed when a dutiful arena guard wouldn't let him into his client's news conference late Sunday.

"I'm LeBron James' agent," Rich Paul told the security woman.

James' pass to Chris Bosh led to the decisive 3-pointer with 1:18 left. (AP)
James' pass to Chris Bosh led to the decisive 3-pointer with 1:18 left. (AP)

She looked at his credential. She looked at him. She shrugged.

"I'm LeBron James' agent," Paul said again. "What don't you understand about that?

She told him simply that his credential didn't allow access into the news conference. She didn't seem confused, nor doubting of his fancy job. This was a news conference, and he didn't seem to be a reporter, nor a team official.

Paul was reaching now. "I can't be LeBron James' agent because I've got sneakers on?"

She hadn't been studying his shoes, but she did glance down and they didn't seem to bother her. Paul could see Carter inside the news conference room, sitting on a chair, awaiting James' arrival. How he made it past security and Paul couldn't, well, it seemed baffling to him. He wasn't a happy man, but his business is LeBron James, and business has never been better.

James delivers everyone the ultimate backstage pass now, especially these childhood friends running his business affairs.

James didn't play the final minutes of Game 1, and he was the biggest story in sports for the next two days. This time, James owned the final minutes of Game 2, and it'll make him the biggest story in sports until Game 3 on Tuesday night.

Everyone's climbed aboard him now, his buddies and the Miami Heat, the TV networks and Madison Avenue marketers. And maybe most of all, the NBA. He's chasing a third straight championship now, chasing the ghosts of the game. Amidst all the hysteria and chaos, all the judgments and damnations thrust upon him, LeBron James comes crisp and clear-minded with his choices, a more complete man and a fully completed player.

Game on the line, James destroying everyone and he still believed Chris Bosh could deliver the dagger, deliver redemption. This is the joy of playing with LeBron James, the peace of mind belonging to the biggest star, the biggest talent, in sports. His virtues, his beliefs. He never, ever wavers.

"I've got a lot of confidence in my teammates and they've got a lot of confidence in me," James said. "We live with the results."

For the NBA now, LeBron James is the result. He's the most loved. He's the most hated. In these Finals, he was brought to his knees and he rose again. His championship, his sport, his time. LeBron James is carrying everyone. He's carrying everything. It is something to see.