LeBron James had 27 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and four steals Wednesday night as his Miami Heat beat the Charlotte Bobcats 105-92.
He gave a rare sellout crowd at Time Warner Cable Arena everything it wanted to see and then some, with four dunks during the first quarter alone.
But after the game – his feet soaking in ice-cold water, his knees wrapped in ice, his lap containing a box of Bojangles’ chicken strips and fries – James looked at the box score and found fault with himself.
“Aaaughh!” he screamed. “Why did I take that last dumb 3?”
By missing a 27-foot 3-point attempt with a minute left, the Heat up by 11 points and the game decided, James dropped his shooting percentage for the game to below the 50 percent standard he wants to hit.
“Nine-for-19,” he fretted.
It was a telling moment for the player who is not just the best in the NBA, but also one of its hardest-working players.
Like Bobcats owner Michael Jordan was during his prime, James is impossible to look away from when he’s on the court. And the way James worked all day against one of the NBA’s worst teams – only 24 hours after a magnificent Christmas Day win against Oklahoma City – was a lesson in how he gets so much out of his prolific gifts.
“He has a humility that’s good for the game,” Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said of James. “He came out early. I can point to our young guys and say, ‘See that?’ because he has every reason not to come out early and get his shots up. … He’s a servant first to this game.”
James’ misguided reasoning to televise the “Decision” special seems long ago now, as he has built back just about all the goodwill he ever had in Cleveland.
To watch him against Charlotte was to see a man who is the best in the world at what he does but who also passes up one shot after another in favor of giving a teammate an open look.
His game contains the spectacular and the subtle.
As Sports Illustrated put it when declaring James the 2012 Sportsman of the Year, following a year in which he won his first NBA championship and his second Olympic gold medal: “He is a Hollywood blockbuster with art-house appeal.”
He also likes Ric Flair. The former Charlotte pro wrestler visited the Heat’s locker room after the game and the players erupted in “Whooos!”
Said James: “When I was a kid I loved wrestling. He was one of the guys I loved, too. … With the Rolexes and the stretch limos and all the girls and all that stuff, he’s like the creator of swag.”
James’ stats Wednesday were very similar to the numbers he put up Tuesday against Oklahoma City.
His only really scary moment came when Gerald Henderson fouled him hard on an attempted breakaway dunk.
James missed the dunk, fell to the floor and came up shaking his wrist.
He didn’t look happy when it happened, but he stayed out of the post-play double-technical jawing: “I’m not one to be the dirty-play guy. I’ll let everybody else figure that out. I know what’s a basketball play and what’s not a basketball play. But whatever.”
(Speaking of dirty plays, did you see Dwyane Wade’s kick of Ramon Sessions right in the spot you most don’t want to be hit?)
The Bobcats actually played very well by their standards, slicing what once was a 19-point Heat lead to two with 7 minutes, 16 seconds to go. But LeBron was fully engaged, and the Heat is close to unbeatable when he is. He hit a 3-pointer, the lead was soon 10 points and the Bobcats were done.
All sports fans owe it to themselves to see LeBron play in person at some point in their lives. I first saw him play 10 years ago, driving from Cleveland after a Panthers game to catch him in action at his Akron, Ohio, high school.
He already was a legend by then, a player whom a local newspaper had nicknamed “King James” during his sophomore season. His games were on pay-per-view in parts of Ohio, costing $7.95 apiece.
He was 6-foot-8, 240 pounds and a passing wizard, but his offensive game was undeveloped and his jumper unreliable.
What I remember most about the night besides LeBron’s striking athleticism was the series of on-court pushups he did – during the game – after violating the team’s no-cursing rule.
Now James is 27 instead of 17 and has everything – albeit only one NBA championship ring compared to Jordan’s six.
But LeBron looked headed straight toward a second ring Wednesday night, in large part because he worked as hard as a clerk at the customer-service counter on the day after Christmas.