It started in mid-March when he ditched his signature headband, proving to the entire Twitterverse he doesn’t give a flying you-know-what about his receding hairline or what you think about it. And after Thursday’s soul-crushing block and subsequent verbal middle finger to Evan Turner during Cleveland’s Game 3 win over Boston, the transition is complete.
Evil LeBron is back, which means the chase for an NBA championship in 15 other cities has unofficially come to a screeching halt.
It’s as satisfying a heel-turn as Paul Orndorff clotheslining Hulk Hogan in ’86 or Owen Hart spiking his own brother in his injured knee back in ’94. The babyface LeBron who penned a heartfelt letter to Cleveland fans in Sports Illustrated to announce his return in July is a soulless droid far too obsessed with his public image, worrying about saying the right thing instead of bludgeoning his opponents with reckless abandon, the same bland, boring LeBron who trudged his way through the first half of the season before he and the Cavaliers finally snapped out of it in January.
Evil LeBron is good for the NBA suits – a veritable ratings booster – but bad for those who actually have to suit up and try to defend him. Evil LeBron is a winner. He will beat you physically and then belittle your effort, like he did in Game 3 when he stuffed Turner’s dunk attempt and then yelled, “You tried!” as the two parted ways. It wasn’t just a message to Turner, but rather a memorandum to the rest of the playoff field. Not this year. Not on my watch.
Evil LeBron already got the championship monkey off his back in Miami, leading the Heat to two NBA titles in an epic, four-year orgy of superfluous success in South Beach. This second incarnate of Evil LeBron is now fighting for his legacy. Winning a championship in a second city puts King James on a different level than Jordan, Kobe, Russell or anyone else synonymous with individual greatness in the grand history of the NBA.
If and when LeBron wins a third title this year he will be the best ever. Jordan won six, but never had to win one in Cleveland, a.k.a. Loserville, USA. Cleveland’s two most memorable sports moments center around shame and embarrassment – John Elway’s game-winning, 98-yard drive at Municipal Stadium in the ’86 AFC Championship and the boorish behavior of the city’s fans when the Browns left for Baltimore in ’95. LeBron has effectively restored hope to a city with no real history to speak of.
The Evil LeBron who won in Miami had a little help from his friends, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Cleveland’s Evil LeBron has no friends, nor does he have a silly headband masking his flaws. This is LeBron holding hands with Demi Lovato telling the world, “This is me,” like the body-shamed mother of three who finally musters up the courage to let her arm fat breathe freely in a sleeveless camisole.
Evil LeBron is more focused than ever and most certainly will not be derailed by Brad Stevens’ sandlot team in Boston, a motley crew of ancillary characters so overmatched it wouldn’t have even qualified for the playoffs in the Western Conference, let alone drop anchor as a seventh seed. The NBA needs its most polarizing villain to keep playing deep into June or else risk the No. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks boring everyone to sleep in the Finals.
Evil LeBron won’t just save Cleveland. He’ll save the NBA, too. His success will temporarily throw dirt on the league’s problems, including its stubborn insistence on allowing 16 teams to make the playoffs despite an increasingly inferior product watered down by the “one and dones” leaving college after one season (another story for another day). We’ll be too busy simultaneously celebrating and castigating King James to notice the two teams with losing records masquerading as championship hopefuls.
Free of all inhibitions and restrictive headwear, Evil LeBron is back. He dropped 31 on the Celtics in Game 3 as Cleveland took a commanding, 3-0 series lead. This one’s over and so is the rest of the championship chase. One thing we’ve learned through all the trials and tribulations of King James’ career is when LeBron stops caring about sportsmanship, etiquette and all the other politically-correct bombast that turns winners into vegans, the opposition stands no chance.
Wave hello to the NBA’s premier bad guy. Just don’t expect him to care which finger you use.
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