Beyond the Boxscore
Yes, LeBron James threw away the chance to take The Last Shot. Again. Yes, even The King himself seems to realize this left him more than a little vulnerable (he looks like he wants to disappear into a Disney World Witness Protection Program during Craig Sager's on-the-bench interview, sort of like how he disappears on those last shot opportunities).
But the 61st NBA All-Star Game isn't about James' mental block.
That's a story for the NBA Finals to come, when James' Miami Heat will be back to try and win the championship they gagged away last June. No, this All-Star Game is about how dominant James looked for the first 47 minutes and 54 seconds of the NBA's star showcase, about how old he made Kobe Bryant appear in the process.
If James starts holding himself accountable, this late game All-Star choke will be more than worth this week's humiliation.
Kevin Durant — the former University of Texas star who can make dropping 36 points on the board look as easy as an afternoon yawn — wins the MVP award. Bryant breaks Michael Jordan's all-time All-Star Game scoring record. And the game belongs to LeBron.
It's not even a question. There's no room for debate.
James doesn't just look like the best player in the world. He looks like he's head and shoulders above the NBA's other superstars.
By the time the NBA All-Star Game shifts to Houston next year, the line will be clearer than ever. Bryant's been passed by, really whizzed by, left on the side of the road like a worn-out couch dumped off the back of a pickup truck.
LeBron's his superior now and it wouldn't be a surprise to see James match Bryant's five championships someday even without the benefit of ever playing with an interior force like Shaq. Oh sure, Kobe can still put up points. He'll get his 27 in an All-Star Game as long as the refs keep treating him like a deity long past his prime, like they did with Jordan (Bryant shot eight free throws Sunday night).
Kobe will always be able to score.
But he longer wows. That is James' domain now. The moments everyone will remember from Orlando? Those are all LeBron. Three after three that barely seems to ripple the net. That ridiculous 22-foot fallaway bank shot. That wraparound pass to Dwyane Wade on the fastbreak. Even the boneheaded pass in the final seconds with the East down three and even Kobe screaming at him to shoot.
Whatever LeBron does or doesn't do will be the story in the NBA for the next decade.
The truth is, Kobe was never as good as Jordan, as much as he stalked the issue. Now, he's been lapped by LeBron James.
Durant figures to have plenty of moments, Chris Paul isn't going anywhere, and Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love and Rick Adelman are only a few years away from having the most exciting team in the league in Minnesota of all places. But unless Dwight Howard rescues the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe's run is all but done.
Bryant is already the oldest 33-year-old the NBA has ever seen. He missed those jump shots against the Utah Jazz in the playoffs — the shots LeBron is still loath to take — at age 18. He's the test case on how long a true basketball prodigy lasts, the basketball player who's lived the Tiger Woods stage parent hard life.
The truth is, Kobe was never as good as Jordan, as much as he stalked the issue. Now, he's been lapped by LeBron James, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound monster with an artist's deft touch.
When you're as good as LeBron, it might not even matter that your heart quakes in the tensest moments.
Grow Man Response
There even seems to be something different about James during his postgame confessional with Sager. There here is, moments after turning down another last shot, chiding himself for the decision. Sager doesn't ask the hard questions as much as LeBron delivers a scathing self analysis.
It's a far cry from the LeBron everyone saw in the NBA Finals last June, the guy who always had an overly-detailed explanation for why he wasn't coming through in the fourth quarter — and why his life is so much better than yours. Could LeBron James finally be done making excuses?
That should scare all the LeBron haters delighting in another late-game blunder to death. If James starts holding himself accountable, this late game All-Star choke will be more than worth this week's humiliation.
Yet, another reason for Kobe Bryant to fret.
The youngsters on the East even get in some digs at Bryant's meaningless All-Star Game scoring record. "That record he got tonight, with KD in the league, I don’t know how long it’s going to last," Wade says in the postgame press conference.
Wade could have easily added his teammate as another guy who will track down Kobe. Forget LeBron being the emperor with no clothes. That title is shifting to Bryant, last-second regret regardless.
Wade breaks Bryant's nose after the egomaniac veteran breaks the All-Star Game code and steals the ball from Wade in humiliating fashion. But LeBron James is the one on the verge of breaking Kobe's spirit.