Roger Clemens signs a baseball that's thrown into the stands. Hakeem Olajuwon scrawls his own neat signature on a basketball that's tossed into the crowd. The NFL's best running baack — Adrian Peterson — just smiles and waves to the camera.
Apparently, there were no footballs lying around the Toyota Center.
The stars are out at the Toyota Center this Tuesday — so much so that Houston Texans all-pros Andre Johnson and Arian Foster are barely noticed. They're all lured by the siren call of another star who will arguably go down as the greatest of them all. It's LeBron James night for the Houston Rockets, the biggest regular season night of them all.
All the stars — is there a sports client of super lawyer Rusty Hardin not in attendance? — and the regular people forking over major cash to get in ("Every single seat is sold," an usher calls out as the lines build and build at the gates) see the main attraction fail in the clutch.
It ends with LeBron James isolated out on the perimeter against Dwight Howard, a should be mismatch in James' favor. But Mr. 61 seems lost with the seconds ticking down. Even as the most energized crowd at the Toyota Center this season braces for overtime, LeBron manages to dribble himself farther and farther away from the 3-point line.
The Rockets may not have faced down LeBron at his absolute best, but they faced him down nonetheless.
He flings up an off-balance 26-footer that really never has a chance with Howard tap tap tap dancing his big feet with LeBron all the way.
That's all folks! Rockets 106, Two Time Defending NBA Champs 103.
It's a surreal and all together glorious ending all at the same time. The Rockets may not have faced down LeBron James at his absolute best, but they faced him down nonetheless, managing to look like the more complete team in the process.
"I felt like I got a good look," LeBron says in his postgame, with the sound bites being recorded by TV cameras with many of the buzzy people still in the Toyota Center.
LeBron James can be excused for feeling like he got Punk'd in his once-a-year trip to Houston. For there he is hitting an impossible three at the third quarter buzzer with James Harden bodied up all over him, playing the type of defense Harden supposedly never plays. It's a breathtaking moment, a shot greater than any of the 22 James hit in his 61 point battering of the Charlotte Bobcats the night before.
But wait . . . even as everyone in the arena catches their breath, it's being wiped away. A between quarters instant replay review by the officials reverses the call on the floor, takes the miracle 3 off the board.
Jeremy Lin hits a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter and the Heat are suddenly down by 13 after thinking they'd pulled within seven. Moments later, Chris Andersen — the Heat's near full-body tattooed, bushy-bearded eccentric Birdman — is given a technical foul for exaggeratedly making the NFL waving it off sign after stone cold rejecting Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas at the rim.
Somewhere, Dikembe Mutombo is weeping into his finger wag — and the Heat have lost another point, this one a freebie given to Houston.
If you're counting — and you can be sure an annoyed LeBron James is — that's four lost points for Miami in a three-point Rockets win. You don't have to be Danica McKellar to do that math.
Harden Trumps Wade
Mostly the Rockets make their own luck on this night though. Harden is absolutely brilliant, turning Dwyane Wade's statement game into an election night referendum on why Kevin Durant is right about Harden being the best two guard in basketball. Wade off goes early on the baseline, but Harden gets everyone involved with the help of a play-making Chandler Parsons, and takes command in the fourth quarter.
Harden finishes with 11 assists on a night when the Rockets' five starters out score the Heat's starters 91-56. And he somehow picks up a loose ball and calmly — and under control — immediately flings in a runner at the shot clock buzzer in the most critical sequence of the closing minutes.
That's four lost points for Miami in a three-point Rockets win. You don't have to be Danica McKellar to do that math.
Even if LeBron doesn't over dribble himself out of a real chance at that game-tying triple, Harden's halfcourt throw away turnover the play before wouldn't have made him a goat. He plays too well for that.
LeBron James is punked in Houston, but not by the officials, all those lost points or even Patrick Beverley's relentless, over-the-top barking at the Heat's bench. (Barking that gets Miami veteran Udonis Haslem bumping Beverley in the halftime locker room walk off.)
No matter. It's James Harden who pulls down Mr. 61's pants in front of all those stars. Sometimes it's exhausting to be King. Sometimes it's great to have Next.