Monday, January 18, 2010

Bruce HJ Column January 17 2010

Last week LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were in Salt Lake City to play the Utah Jazz. We buy a few Jazz tickets and this year we made sure we had tickets to this game. We knew it was going to be a late game and we wouldn’t get home until after midnight but that was OK because we wanted to watch LeBron James play. We got to the arena early and as we entered the building noted a large number of people wearing LeBron James jerseys. Like us, many attending this game were there to see LeBron play. Our seats at the Jazz games are in the lower bowl about seven rows up from where Larry Miller the owner of the Jazz once sat. Larry died about a year ago, but his wife still comes to most of the games and maintains the tradition of sitting on the front row with her family. Watching the Jazz play up close is always fun, but this was gong to be a special night because LeBron James was in town and we were going to watch it all from two of the best seats in the arena.
As the time came for the teams to take the floor for their pre-game warm-up, the Jazz took the floor first and received the usual enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. However, all of the cameras and most of the attention was focused on the other end of the arena in anticipation of LeBron running through the tunnel and onto the floor. The area around the visitors tunnel was packed with media and fans just waiting for LeBron to arrive. There wasn’t much of a cheer as he ran onto the floor, it was mostly boos, but it was obvious that those who surrounded the tunnel wanted to be as close as they could to LeBron and hopefully get a photo of him.
As the team warmed up all eyes continued to be on LeBron. Both media and fans crowded around the Cavalier’s end of the floor just to get as close as they could to simply watch him. I don’t know a time when I have seen as many people with camera phones trying to get a photo of someone. LeBron was aware that he was the center of attention and put on quite a show during pre-game warm ups. He wowed the crowd with spectacular dunks. After the lay-ups LeBron began shooting threes. He doesn’t often miss, and just before the game began he entertained the crowd by attempting a dozen or so half-court court shots. He didn’t make any but several times came very close. Each time he came close there was a collective moan from the crowd. The pre-game fascination with LeBron didn’t end with the warm-ups, during the National Anthem I counted seven television cameras, all focused on Lebron.
The introduction of the starting line-ups is always the same. The visiting team’s players get a polite unemotional introduction. This time it was no different, there were the usual boos when LeBron was introduced. On the other hand the introduction of the Jazz starting five is filled with loud cheering, videos of the players and flashing lights. While all of the craziness of introducing the Jazz starting five was going on LeBron was doing pull-ups on the basketball rim at the other end of the floor.
Before a game begins, LeBron obviously has a pre-game ritual he goes through. I watched as he stood on the floor near the Cavaliers bench and pulled down his basketball shorts. He then made sure his jersey was properly tucked into his undergarments, made other adjustments to his uniform and then pulled his shorts back up where they belong. He then walked over to the scorers table and rubbed his hands in white powder and threw a bunch of it into the air. Now he was ready to play basketball. He went through the same ritual before the second half started except he did it in the middle of the court. He dropped his basketball shorts below his knees tucked in his jersey and adjusted his basketball uniform.
For LeBron the first half of the game was rather uneventful. He did steal the ball a couple of times and gracefully ran to the other end with enormous strides for a spectacular dunk. At half time he only had eight points. But everyone in the arena knew that when crunch time came, probably in the fourth quarter, he would come alive, take charge and be the player that would win the game for his team. He didn’t disappoint. Almost all by himself he secured a 13 point lead for the Cavaliers late in the fourth quarter. Everyone in the arena knew it was over. The Jazz could never come back, especially with LeBron in the game taking charge for the Cavaliers. Jazz fans began heading for the exits, they were sure the Jazz were going to lose. LeBron and his exceptional basketball skills had been the deciding factor. By the end of the game he had 32 points, a bunch of assists and rebounds. It was inspirational to watch him play and dominate. He is truly a spectacular gifted athlete and a tremendous basketball player.
But wait, the game wasn’t quite over. Despite LeBron James the Jazz came back and won the game by one point with a last second three pointer from a rookie player no one had ever heard of. It was an exciting finish, one of the most exciting basketball games I have witnessed.
Listening to the cheers of the Jazz faithful LeBron was forced to accept defeat and quietly exited the arena. The ride back to Cache Valley wasn’t all that bad. The day was complete, we got to watch one of the best basketball players in the world, and the Jazz won in a thriller.

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