After game two Dan Gilbert marches into the locker room of his Cleveland Cavaliers and tugs the back of LeBron James’ jersey. “Hey, we gotta talk.”
“I’ll give you five minutes when we get back to Cleveland.”
“You’ll talk now or I’ll suspend you the rest of this series.”
“Sure, we’re down two-oh and I’m averaging forty points a game.”
“I must tell you something of great importance. Please step into the training room.”
LeBron looks at reporters, shaking his head, and follows Gilbert.
“I think you’re going to be very happy about this, LeBron.” The little owner reaches for his cell phone, presses a key, and says, “Okay, we’ll meet in the prearranged place.”
Gilbert motions this way, and LeBron says, “What the hell’s this?”
LeBron grimaces but trails Gilbert out of the locker room, down the hall, around a corner, and through a steel door opened by an armed guard. Steph Curry, already waiting, steps forward and embraces his rival. “I did it for you, LeBron.”
“During the game tonight, I made sure you wouldn’t become hysterical the rest of the series.”
“Hysterical? I know myself to be calm, confident, and mature.”
“You appear to be all of those things, LeBron, but Dan and I know you’re fragile emotionally and couldn’t withstand the stress of a seven game series. You’re going to lose no matter what, so I agreed when Dan asked me to limit your agony to four or five games. I hope you appreciate my consideration but, please, keep this between the three of us.”
“You’re flat crazy. What’re you talking about?”
“If Dan hadn’t asked me to do a historical number of you guys tonight, I might have only played very well instead of super-duper. Check it out. Late in the first half you made a layup to cut our lead to seven. I immediately responded with a three-point bomb, way beyond the arc and long even by my standards, and soon drained another moon shot, and all of a sudden you guys are down by fifteen, and at halftime you still trailed by thirteen.”
“How the hell’s that supposed to make me feel better.”
“Let me finish,” Steph says. Gilbert nods.
“Early in the fourth quarter you again hit a layup to bring your outgunned Cavs within seven. And again I hit a three and another three that put you guys down thirteen and kept you from getting your hopes too high. A little later I heaved another rainbow from way downtown, and it swished to give us a lead of fourteen. You guys clawed back to trail by ten, so rather than setting you up for another soul-destroying loss like in game one, I turned up my radar and nailed a wild-ass three-pointer from the corner to put us up by thirteen. And before long I made sure you got to rest early when I nailed my ninth triple, an NBA finals record. You guys actually had to play pretty well to only lose by nineteen.”
“I should smack your insolent face,” says LeBron.
“That’s not fair, LeBron,” says Gilbert. “Steph did a lot more. Tell him.”
“About an hour before the game I explained the situation to JeVale McGee and Shaun Livingston and flat told the guys, ‘Look, we’ve got to do the humane thing and finish off LeBron quickly.’ They agreed and promised a supreme effort. And you saw how they performed. JeVale hit six of six from the field and Shaun nailed five of five. Incredible, huh?”
“Thank you so much, Stephen,” says LeBron, who turns and strides out of the room.