LeBron James’s awful performance Tuesday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals was so shocking and out of character it has everyone losing their heads. It was the sports equivalent of a pig sprouting wings: It made one question everything they’d seen before, everything they thought they knew. Maybe LeBron isn’t the second coming of Jordan/Magic/Bird/Russell/Oscar. Maybe he’s too pampered and self-satisfied. One badly timed bad night can do that.
Tonight we find out if, as Bill Simmons wrote yesterday, “the axis of professional basketball has shifted.” If LeBron can bring his Cavs into Boston and take over like he did in Game 3, the world will tilt slightly closer to normal. If they lose tonight, the entire planet is overturned.
A loss by the Cavs tonight could be the death of the franchise, another crushing blow to a city that has dealt with nothing but sports pain. It’s tragic and awful and why sports hurts. New Yorkers watch all this with a wary, lascivious, and slightly untoward eye. If LeBron turns all this around and makes this into the next part of his narrative, leading the Cavs to the title, we’ll all know what we thought we knew. But if he doesn’t, if this all goes south … well, nobody knows anything anymore. The NBA is upside-down. That’s probably better for New Yorkers than it is for anybody else.