Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James submitted another monster effort to at least keep his team in Game 2 of the NBA Finals for a half, but he appeared to run out of gas as the Golden State Warriors stretched the lead to as large as 21 before finishing off a second straight blowout victory.
As James walked off the floor, a fight broke out near the entrance to the tunnel to Oracle Arena’s underbelly. Apparently, he had seen enough of the Bay Area through two games of the series, because when it came time to meet the media, the league’s four-time MVP didn’t feel much like waiting his turn at the podium. Instead, LeBron conducted his session with reporters in Cleveland’s locker room.
LeBron faced 16 questions, two of which were about his decision not to speak at the podium:
Q: Usually you’re a podium guy. Any reason you’re doing this in the locker room?
James: Yeah, there’s a reason.
Q: Do you want to share?
James: No. It has nothing to do with wins and losses, though.
The reason, per ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, is that he didn’t want to wait for the Warriors to speak:
LeBron has been frustrated having to wait to go to podium a few times recently. So for now, he's not doing it. Didn't yesterday either.
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) June 5, 2017
The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue, then, was: Well, would he have come to the podium if the Cavaliers won? At Games 1 and 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in Boston, for example, James took the podium after midnight — more than an hour following a pair of wins against the Celtics — although a champagne celebration in the locker room forced the wait on one of those occasions. The first game was not a getaway day, and the Cavs had more than a week off after the second, so neither scenario presented a reason to rush out of TD Garden. LeBron had a flight to catch on Sunday night.
For some context, the NBA’s media relations coordinators will bring the game’s top performers to the podium, where a gaggle of reporters await to ask questions in hopes of filling in the gaps in the night’s storylines. Less impactful players will speak to the media in the locker room. As a result, most media folk will camp out by the podium and wait for the evening’s stars and coaches to face their questions.
James, being one of the game’s greats, almost always speaks at the podium. So, when he opts not to, reporters are faced with the decision of waiting to speak to Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry at the podium or hustle back to the locker room and try to get LeBron’s reaction. This isn’t the dilemma media members face after regular-season games, when players generally speak from their lockers.
Think of skipping the podium as foregoing a bit of professional courtesy to the media. It all might be a little too inside basketball, and it’s a small price to pay if LeBron was in a hurry to catch the team’s flight back to Cleveland, but it’s also out of the norm for a player who’s been to seven straight Finals.
Critics, of which there are always many, will point to an exchange with one reporter during LeBron’s five-minute session as an example of his testiness with the media following Sunday’s 132-113 loss:
Q: LeBron, do you just feel this is a case where you just have to defend home court at this point?
James: Well, are you a smart guy?
Q: I think so.
James: Well, if we don’t defend home court, then what happens?
Q: Then you guys are looking at getting swept.
James: All right, so that answers your question.
James defenders, of which there are also many, will point to the illogical nature of the question as the reason for his apparent dissatisfaction. If the Cavs do not defend home court, they will be eliminated. That question, better phrased, went like this: How can going home change your outlook for Game 3?
“For me, I feel much better on the road,” James elaborated in a longer response that might have been equally as confusing to interpret. “You go home, you tend to get more comfortable. You’re in your own bed, own facilities and things of that nature. For me, it doesn’t change. I’m the same way on the road or at home; I still have this bunker mentality when it comes to playing ball. We’re looking forward to it. Our fans are looking forward to it; we know that. We have to give them something to cheer for.”
Not every question and answer is perfect, but when they involve LeBron, they’re all bound to be dissected. So, we might also wonder if James beginning his press conference with, “I thought for the most part with the game plan that we had we tried to execute it as close as possible,” and ending it with, “I don’t put the game plan together,” is somehow a veiled shot at Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue.
Or maybe LeBron was just tired. He has, after all, carried an inordinate amount of weight against a Warriors team that looks vastly superior through two games. James was even asked if he he’d need an IV after the game. “No, I’m good,” he said. “I just need some food and some wine and I’ll be all right.”
Regardless of whether you’re a critic or defender, everyone knows that feeling after a hard day’s work.
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