MIAMI – It’s tough being ‘‘King James.”
Why, some days you even have to ride your bike to the gym to play a team such as the Bulls.
‘‘Forty minutes,” LeBron James said after the Miami Heat had edged the Bulls in a 97-93 thriller Sunday at American Airlines Arena.
That’s 40 minutes of pedaling to get him from his home to this raucous place off Biscayne Bay.
Nobody knows why James rode to the game. Get the heart rate up, perhaps. Be like the 99 percenters, maybe. But the bike sat protected away from the locker room after the game, and James wouldn’t say whether he would ride it home. (Here’s guessing a limo took them both.)
What James gave everyone was an astoundingly good show, but one that had abrupt weaknesses at the end. Which is the way critics see James’ NBA legacy thus far. You know the gags: Why do Heat players learn CPR? So they’re ready when LeBron chokes.
It’s not fair, but that’s the rap you get when you’re huge and talented but seem to fade late and haven’t won a crown. Kings are supposed to have crowns, after all.
‘‘I think that’s a problem with the league sometimes,” James said when he finally appeared in the Heat’s locker room, long after most of his teammates had left. ‘‘Sometimes you all just evaluate the last minute or seconds of games and forget about the complete 48-minute games.”
He meant the media, of course. Always the devil.
‘‘There is possession after possession after possession,” he said. ‘‘But we understand where you guys come from. We understand what makes headlines.”
Well, yes. When the last minute of a close game shows this kind of line for the previously dominant James – 0-for-2 on field goals, 0-for-2 on free throws, one rebound, no assists – we can see it as a potential headline.
‘That’s the world we live in’
The amazing thing is that Bulls star Derrick Rose – who finished with 34 points, six rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block to James’ 35 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and a block – missed two free throws with the Bulls trailing by a point with 22.7 seconds left. Until then, he was 12-for-12 from the line.
Gagging? Choking? Or just the reigning most valuable player having a human moment?
‘‘King James” wanted us to know that it was the last of those.
‘‘D-Rose had an unbelievable game, but we know you guys will all talk about his missed free throws,” James said. ‘‘And I try to do everything I can to help my team win, but you’ll talk about my missed free throws. That’s the world we live in.”
I apologize, but it’s true.
Yet to get to the final moments of great games, the great players likely have done great things already.
This was a showdown between the teams everyone expects to square off in the Eastern Conference finals this spring, just as they did last spring.
The Heat beat the Bulls last May, then gagged against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. James was derided for sort of vanishing in the fourth quarters of the games against the Mavs.
We expect a lot
This being the first time the Bulls and Heat played this season, a lot was laid on the shoulders of James and Rose.
There were spectacular plays by each. On one of his ferocious dunks – I believe it was the second one, with five minutes left in the first quarter – James jammed a one-hander over tiny Bulls guard John Lucas III so violently that Lucas could have been killed. James’ head was up by the American flag decal on the glass backboard, something you don’t see too often.
James also made clutch baskets at the end of shot clocks, once draining a fall-away three-pointer. A man this big and this gifted probably never can satisfy the public. But as he himself says, that’s the world we live in.
Rose was so upset about his missed free throws and lack of firepower at the end of the game that he seemed truly depressed.
But there was James – the man who guarded Rose at the end, who won a jump ball after an inadvertent whistle with 16.8 seconds left, a tip that might have saved the game – getting grief, too.
It comes with the turf.
As ‘‘King James” said before he left, commenting on Rose’s misses: ‘‘He was 29-for-29 [on free throws] for the season in the fourth quarter. He made all the other ones .â€‰â€‰.â€‰â€‰. so you expect him to make one.”
That’s how it goes.
We expect a lot.