When the late Hunter S. Thompson (my favorite writer of all-time) published his first column with the launch of ESPN.com’s new “Page 2″ section, his last sentence was an unfamiliar Latin phrase, “Res Ipsa Loquitor.” I immediately looked it up and learned that it meant, “the thing speaks for itself.” I thought of this phrase as I looked over the boxscore of last night’s 118-90 Miami Heat victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night. The margin of victory and LeBron James’ 38 points in 30 minutes — all within the first three quarters — spoke for themselves whether or not you watched the game.
Of course, if you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you did watch the game. If you had the opportunity to watch it and you didn’t, you wouldn’t be a diehard NBA fan and you wouldn’t be here right now, would you? You probably saw Cleveland get off to an adrenaline-fueled early lead that they held until a pair of LeBron free throws tied the game at 17 at the 3:34 mark of the first quarter. Those free throws were part of a 15-0 Miami run that sucked the life out of Quicken Loans Arena, and the ferocious, spiteful heckling of the scorned Cavaliers fans had been reduced to a dull roar.
As the Heat began to pull away in the second quarter, LeBron began cracking jokes with (or perhaps at) the Cavaliers bench while the livid fans behind the bench screamed foul epithets at their former hero. But he did not acknowledge them — he didn’t appear to even notice them. In the third quarter, he exploded for 24 points and staked the Heat to an insurmountable 30-point lead going into the meaningless final quarter. LeBron’s work was done, there would be no vengeance in Cleveland that night.
It would be easy to pretend that last night’s domination doesn’t mean all that much — it’s just one game, the Cavaliers aren’t very good, the Heat continue to beat up on bad teams and lose to good teams, etc. But the same people who want to minimize this game’s importance would be shrieking that LeBron can’t handle real pressure if he had folded on such a big stage. Yes, it’s just one game out of 82 in a long season, but he’s unlikely to face this kind of pressure again until at least the Eastern Conference Finals. He was undeterred by all the negativity thrown at him, brushing it off like so much dirt off his broad shoulders.
I feel like last night was a sort of turning point for LeBron James in terms of how he deals with adversity. I believe that the great ones in sport either thrive off negativity and doubt — like Michael Jordan — or they become oblivious to it — like Kobe Bryant. LeBron appears to have learned how to achieve that Kobe-like state of mind. He now has that right combination of self-confidence and emotional armor to achieve greatness regardless of the circumstances. LeBron can just do LeBron, and it doesn’t matter what you or I think about it.
From the moment LeBron announced his nationally televised decision to “take his talents to South Beach” on July 8, millions of sports fans have been rooting for him to fail. There should be no question that this was difficult for him to deal with for a while — how could it not be? Last night, he acted out a definitive response to all the negative energy we’ve been sending his way: “I won’t listen to all you haters anymore. And if I fail, it will not be because you wanted me to.”
Keep throwing rocks at King James’ self-appointed throne if it quells your fear and fuels your loathing. I don’t think he feels it anymore.