Thursday night, LeBron James provided a coming of age, tour de force performance that not only propelled his team to the brink of an NBA Finals berth, it also perfectly illustrated the gulf separating Tracy McGrady and true superstardom. In case you missed it, LeBron carried the Cavs to victory in double overtime, scoring his team’s final 25 points and 29 of their last 30. It was the kind of show we’re sure to see twenty years from now, when LeBron’s Hall of Fame video montage takes us back to the moment James emphatically announced his arrival as a player capable of willing his club to victory when the games matter most. In short, it’s the type of performance we’re still waiting to see from T-Mac, ten years into his career.
I know, I know. Here I go again with the McGrady bashing. Thing is, I like the guy. He’s a great player, no doubt. And there’s certainly no shame in falling short when compared to LeBron. Only two other active players in the NBA could have duplicated James’ feat last night and their names are Kobe and Wade. That’s about as good as it gets. And if we’re being honest with ourselves here, we know T-Mac is not in their class and never will be.
Yet I can practically hear the Tracy apologists now: If McGrady and the Rockets were in the pathetically weak Eastern Conference, they’d be the ones battling for the right to face San Antonio! Perhaps that’s true, but there’s also no denying the fact LeBron is getting this done with a supporting cast far inferior to the group currently surrounding T-Mac. And did you notice how most of James’ success came when he mercilessly attacked the basket? Sadly, Tracy seems either unwilling or unable to consistently follow suit at this stage of his career.
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What defines a champion? What secret code lies within one’s heart, elevating that person to the top of his or her profession? It’s the unsolvable riddle that fuels the fire of sports talk worldwide. Even more interesting is the fact that though we don’t know where “it” comes from, we do know “it” when we see it. LeBron has it. Tracy doesn’t. And though James and the Cavs won’t be lifting the O’Brien trophy this year (San Antonio will, just as Miss Cleo foresaw), their time is coming. As for T-Mac and the Rockets? They should splurge on some courtside seats and enjoy the show. Because that’s as close to a title as they’re likely to get. – Jason Friedman