Notebook > Sports

King James' court

Sports | Young star takes "first step to greatness"

Issue: "Fixing Islam," June 16, 2007

Nearly five years after being dubbed "King" in high school, the confetti that poured down over Cleveland's LeBron James following the Cavaliers' decisive Game 6 victory over Detroit to advance to the NBA Finals certainly seemed like a coronation. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward who showed up in the final four games of the Eastern Conference Championship was the kind of player many NBA fans envisioned James to become when he was drafted first overall in 2003.

A stunned James-perhaps still oblivious to the looming specter of the Finals matchup with San Antonio-seemed in the mood for acceptance speeches after earning his first berth in the NBA's pinnacle series. "This is the first step to greatness," a dazed James said during a quiet moment sitting in front of his locker. "It feels like a fantasy."

No one seemed so certain after Game 2. The final moments of the first two games against the Pistons made James seem more chump than champ. In the closing moments of Game 1, James eschewed a layup opportunity to tie the game, instead passing to the aging Donyell Marshall who missed a 3-pointer. In Game 2, James kept the ball in his hands and still failed.

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But from there, a different James emerged. The forward exploded in the next three meetings, including a stunning performance in Game 5 where he scored his team's final 25 points. He proved he could make his teammates better. In Game 6 when the Pistons barraged him with double- and triple-teams, James found the open shooter.

Like Mike? Not so fast. He may be the closest thing to Michael Jordan since the Hall-of-Fame guard's heyday. But even if the underdog Cavaliers manage to upset the veteran Spurs, James will still stand five championships short of Michael Jordan's six with the Chicago Bulls.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Jordan said James still has much to prove. "He showed signs. Making 'The Leap' is where you do it every single night," he explained. "It's expected of you, and you do it. That, to me, is 'The Leap.' Not one game, not two games. It's consistent. Every defense comes in and they focus on you and you still impact the game. I think he's shown signs of that. I think he's going to continue to grow with that."

Around the Horn

NBA: For Billy Donovan, it was a six-day whirlwind. First came rumors that he would leave the Florida Gators to coach the NBA's Orlando Magic. Then came the signed contract with Orlando and a press conference. Then came his second thoughts and finally the June 5 agreement that voids the contract provided Donovan doesn't coach in the NBA for 5 years. The big winners? Gator fans, whose hot-commodity coach should be around for a while.

NASCAR: After a bout with cancer, longtime NASCAR chief executive Bill France Jr. died on June 4. He was 74. During his tenure, which started in 1972, France navigated a sponsorship agreement with Winston to create the Winston Cup and negotiated TV deals including a $2.4 billion agreement in 2001 with three networks. France turned the reins of the multibillion-dollar conglomerate over to his son Brian in 2003.

NFL: Attempting to reinforce the NFL's new tough stance on bad off-field behavior, commissioner Roger Goodell handed down an eight-game suspension to Chicago defensive lineman Tank Johnson. Since being drafted in 2005, Johnson has been arrested five times and finished a 60-day sentence in the Cook County Jail for violating his parole on a 2005 weapons charge. Goodell indicated Johnson's suspension could be reduced to six games if he stays out of legal trouble.

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