For those who had doubts about the hierarchy of NBA players, LeBron James quieted them in the series against the Bulls. In some ways, this series reminded me of the legendary 1995 Western Conference series when the Houston Rockets led by Hakeem Olajuwon faced the San Antonio Spurs captained by David Robinson. Robinson won the 1995 MVP award and ‘The Admiral’ played magnificently that year. There were moments in that season when he seemed as though might entirely change the paradigm of the center position. The year before, Hakeem ‘The Dream’ won the MVP and his Rockets won the title. The Dream was perceived to be at the top of his game and soon to decline as he’d already been in the league for a decade. The 1995 season was the one in which the public mantle of best post-Jordan player was firmly shifted from Olajuwon to Robinson. Until the playoffs.
The Rockets limped into the playoffs as a 6 seed but ultimately won the title in perhaps the most unlikely situation of any NBA champion. In the defining series, Olajuwon utterly destroyed Robinson, particularly after watching the MVP ceremony. This double Dream Shake move is routinely used to illustrate how badly one guy can embarrass another.
There’s no similarly iconic moment of James dominating Rose, in part because the two didn’t guard each other. Well, that’s halfway true. In multiple fourth quarters in this series, James did guard Rose. It was an unqualified success. Rose has an amazing skill set blending speed, hops, ball skills, quickness, savvy, floaters, balance, great understanding of angles and astonishing strength. None of it mattered. James guarded Rose better than the unquestioned best defensive point guard, Rajon Rondo, has been able to do in Bulls-Celtics playoff matchups. LeBron used own amazing gifts to frustrate, intimidate and dominate Rose.
Much like Olajuwon, James said all the right things about losing the MVP trophy and has been very gracious in the midst of the conversation in some quarters anointing someone else (Derrick Rose) the best player in the game. Then, he went out and made that speculation laughable. It is abundantly clear that LeBron James is still King James. To suggest otherwise seems absurd. He’s taken back the conn* and he’s taken back his crown. Now, he has to do the hardest thing of all (just ask Dirk). Take the ring.
*-I really like the movie Crimson Tide. The battle of wills involved feels epic. Epic and easily applicable to sports.