After game three, in the executive compartment of my limousine, I leaned back in the seat, closed my eyes, and thought, “Lord, I’m playing like few men ever have, and the hot air analysts are already saying I choked or disappeared or at least became mortal in the fourth quarter, though few mentioned I’d toiled forty-six minutes and burned much energy not only scoring thirty-nine points, clutching eleven rebounds, and lasering nine assists, but guarding my suddenly-faultless counterpart, Mr. Kevin Durant.”
Now, I’ll tell you as soon as anyone, and with more authority, that Durant is one of a handful of greatest players in history. It would be absurd not to acknowledge that and equally irresponsible to fail to mention that in 2012 my Miami Heat became NBA champions after winning games two through five to vanquish the Oklahoma City Thunder of Kevin Durant. And what happened last season in the 2016 Western Conference finals when the Thunder led Golden State three games to one? I’ll tell you. The Thunder lost game five, led game six by eight points after three quarters but was outscored thirty-three to eighteen in the fourth, and for the evening Durant hit a frigid ten of thirty-one from the field. After the Warriors won the deciding seventh game, sharpshooting Durant totaled forty-two percent for the series and less than three of ten beyond the arc.
Tonight, blessed by four future hall of famers, the fresher Warriors scored eleven straight points in the final three minutes to nip us by five. They have us in a three-zip stranglehold, and the coronation of Kevin Durant has begun. Am I privately bitter about this? Certainly. My formula for each team change has been to join two prodigies, and Durant has bested me by one, and that’s why he’s the new king and I’m merely the upscale serf.
Do I hear a knock on the window to my right? I turn a tired head to see an elderly man smiling. I wave go away.
“LeBron. It’s Jerry West. Please let me in.”
“Jerry West,” I say through glass, and open the door, and he eases onto the seat next to me.
“I’d like to talk to you.”
“Sure,” I say, “but is it okay since you advise the Warriors?”
“They’ll never know.”
“With all these people watching us?”
“I won’t be giving away any secrets. I’m here for history.”
“I always think of you as Mr. Clutch.”
“I did hit quite a few game-winning shots but I guess the nickname’s a little ironic since I played in nine NBA finals and my team won only once.”
“I can relate. It looks like I’ll soon be three for eight.”
“LeBron, I want you to know what the bigmouths either don’t or pretend they don’t. When you lost, you without exception lost to better teams, even against Dallas in 2011. It was the same during my career. Except for 1969, when we were actually better than Boston but fell in seven, Bill Russell and the Celtics were simply better.”
“You had a great series against them, I know.”
“Fifty-three points in game one and forty-one in game two, both wins for us. But they won two in Boston and we split the next two. I thought we had them. The home team had won every game, yet they led by fifteen after three quarters and Wilt Chamberlain hurt his leg midway through the fourth and the coach wouldn’t let him back in. We still made a run and I was playing about like you’ve played the last three finals. I got forty-two points, thirteen rebounds, and twelve assists that didn’t prevent Boston from beating us for the sixth time in the finals.”
“That would blow me away.”
“I had to keep trying. In the early seventies we played the Knicks in the finals three times in four years, and finally got a title in 1972. That’s the year we won thirty-three in a row. The other two seasons, the Knicks played too well. Real players know that best teams almost always win. Wilt was insulted so many times because he only got two rings. I know you’ve been dealing with the same thing since you’ve merely won three titles. Tonight, you and Kyrie Irving made as many acrobatic shots and great plays as you possibly could have. It’s fundamental. You’re going to need more horses against our Warriors.”
“How can we get them? Jerry?”
“LeBron, wake up,” says one of my buddies, shaking me.