If LeBron James’ December was notable for something, it’s that it wasn’t really notable for anything. Take a look at these box score lines from December on — none of them stand out from one another as being particularly good or particularly bad. In every single one up until Christmas, LeBron hoists somewhere between 15 and 25 shots, scores somewhere between 21 and 31 points, hands out between 5 and 11 assists, and turns the ball over five times or fewer. The only semi-exceptional stat lines (26/13/11 in Washington, 31/10/9 against New York, 36/11/8 in Orlando) are basically negated by the fact that they came in rare Miami losses. (Needing OT to beat the Magic while giving up 29 rebounds to Nik Vucevic counts as a loss.) Really, LeBron James has done nothing of interest this month.
Indicative of this fact was the recent Grantland post entitled “A Couple of Things About LeBron James Booster-Rocketing Into Orbit Above Al Horford,” pertaining to a dunk LeBron slammed over the Hawks center. Without reading the article, I watched the video a couple of times and was convinced I had missed something. Not really — this was just a typical LeBron James alley-oop, which while impressive for 99 percent of more mortal-leaning NBA players, was more of a once-a-game thing for LeBron James. Twice, tops. Chris Ryan did an admirable attempt of making the dunk seem like a big deal, but really, aside from Jay-Z and Beyoncé being in attendance, it was simply not a remarkable NBA occurrence.
Had it taken place in, say, December of 2010, it would not have been one of the first 20 LeBron-related subjects demeed article-worthy by Grantland. Maybe not one of the first 50. This month, it was just about all they had, so sparse was the news on the LeBron front that they even ran a sort of “History of LeBron” PTI montage, like a rerun while LBJ was on winter break.
It would appear that a little more than nine seasons into his microscopically analyzed professional career, LeBron James has reached a place few great professional athletes, especially in the NBA, ever dream of reaching: Being boring. Kobe Bryant has managed to play twice as long without EVER being boring for an entire month. Even in the few drama-free moments of his pro hoops tenure, the lack of news was newsworthy enough that people never went in ignorance of it. But without a title to chase, a troublesome teammate or coach to battle, or a facet of his game particularly thriving or lacking, there’s just no drama left in LeBron. He’s so boring now that he can’t stop listening to Wiz Khalifa.
There was been one part of LeBron’s play this month that made headlines, though only the most devout of NBA fans would ever notice it, or even the reporting of it: His streak of games without getting called for a foul. LeBron went six games in a row, between December 8th and the first quarter of his Christmas Day game against the Thunder, without committing a personal foul, an extreme rarity for a player playing as many minutes, and accepting as much of a defensive responsibility, as LBJ. It’s hard to imagine a streak more bizarre than this for LeBron — it’s incredibly impressive, but in an unsettling way, because in essence it’s an achievement of inactivity, of invisibility. It’s like he’s gotten so boring, the refs don’t see a purpose in paying attention to him anymore.
For the record, LeBron seems totally OK with all of this. The most memorable quotes he’s given to reporters recently haven’t been about himself, or even his team or his teammates. They’ve been about opponents. On Rudy Gay and the Memphis Grizzlies, after an 18-point loss: “Rudy Gay is like — and I don’t know if I can say this, because he’s so talented — but when he’s like the third option, you have a really damn good team.” On Draymond Green after losing a close one to the Warriors: ““He played hard, it was great competition out there between me and him … I’ve also respected him especially in college, a big-time player and no one really gave him a shot, but you can tell he knows how to play the game.” Sure, ask me about these other guys, LeBron seems to be saying. Long as it ain’t about me, I’m good.
So how does a hater, who thrives on action for reaction, process this? Well, my hate is certainly not at a maximum, though it’s not at a minimum either, since it’s hard not to resent LeBron’s taking the coward’s way out by simply removing himself from the discussion. Right now, LeBron is Stringer Bell, being advised by Prop Joe that the number one killer of haters out there is boredom, and while he’s not wrong, I refuse to be vanquished so easily. It’s easy to be un-noteworthy in December of a season where unexpectedly hot and cold starts by the Knicks and Lakers respectively are dominating the headlines, but let’s see him try to do that around All-Star Weekend, in a late-season battle for playoff position or during the playoffs themselves. You can’t hide from hate forever, LeBron.
Hate Index: 2/10