The Last WordAn off night for the NBA's much-hyped LeBron James came very close to catastrophic proportions after the Cavaliers' star took an awkward fall.
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
CLEVELAND -- Please get up. Please get up. For the good of the league and the love of money, please get up.
When LeBron James fell awkwardly, one of his legs bending unnaturally beneath him, you almost could hear NBA commissioner David Stern spitting up his hot buttered popcorn.
The play occurred late in the second quarter last night as James and the Cleveland Cavaliers played host to the Raptors. James was chasing down a loose ball when he collided with the Raptors' Jerome Moiso, a mild-mannered sort who in this instance was being notably aggressive.
Everyone's heart skipped a beat, but thankfully for the NBA's hype machine and the league's financial future, James got up. The sorest part of his body was his kisser rather than a knee or an ankle.
"The ball just hit me in the face," James said.
While that was a great relief to Stern, who was in attendance at Gund Arena, there was no relief for the lowly Cavs, who fell 100-93 to the Raptors. If Stern was counting on a classic showdown between James and fellow rookie Chris Bosh, or perhaps between James and Vince Carter, nothing of the sort happened.
James had a passive, low-energy night. He amassed a team-high 18 points, five rebounds and three assists, but he never made an extended impact. He was guarded by the Raptors' Jalen Rose for most of the evening, and vice versa, with Rose clearly winning the mental battle.
"That's a key player for them," said James of Rose, who scored 20 points, 16 in the second half. "He can get off shots when he wants to. He did it with the Bulls, he did it at Michigan and now he's doing it with Toronto."
You could tell James' brain wasn't fully into it late in the third quarter, when he attempted a lazy alley-oop pass to teammate Carlos Boozer that easily was picked off by Rose.
"It was two lob passes that started the downfall," Cavs coach Paul Silas said. When Silas took James out of the game early in the fourth quarter, the look on his face spoke volumes as he skulked off the court, bypassing the bench and plopping his discouraged body behind the baseline.
James, who later returned to the game, undoubtedly is a great talent. But the slow and painful realization that he's playing on a horrible NBA team is wearing on him.
It's not that James, the No. 1 pick in the draft last June, thinks he's any better than his teammates. The Cavs are making at least one documentable attempt to keep him humble. When the pre-game introductions are made in Cleveland, James is not accorded the honour of being the last Cavs starter to have his name announced. James gets announced second, after Ricky Davis, with the final spot going to centre Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Apparently James' name was announced last for the Cavs' first home pre-season game, but it didn't go over well with the other players and the coaches. So let's see, a $90-million US shoe contract from Nike is no problem, but being the last player introduced for the Cavaliers is going too far? Well, James always gets the loudest cheers anyway.
You would think a matchup featuring James and Carter would be a big draw in Cleveland, but there were scores of empty seats. A sellout is 20,562 but the announced crowd was only 16,939.
Some locals suggested everyone was hung over from the Cleveland Browns' appearance on Monday Night Football the evening before. With that in mind, it was fitting that 10 young fans took the time to spell out B-O-O-O-O-O-Z-E-R on their bare chests, in honour of Boozer (the extra vowels presumably the result of having too many friends).
But that lowbrow enthusiasm aside, the Cavs actually heard some boos at various junctures during the game last night.
"From every loss, you learn something," said James, who honestly didn't sound convinced.
Everyone knew patience would be required for both the 18-year-old James individually and the Cavaliers as a unit. But patience is just a word when the world is watching and you're 5-16.