The known commodity: LeBron James is single-handedly doing the impossible. The unknown commodity: Why exactly he’s doing it. Of course, he wants to win for himself. Success is far more enjoyable than defeat. Surely he wants to win for Cleveland, his native region, a place starved for a pro championship since the other LBJ was in office.
But James also admitted Sunday there’s a “secret motivation” nudging him along as well. So let’s run through the three most likely possibilities:
1) LeBron has an Akron-sized chip on his shoulder for being massive underdogs. This is an unfamiliar position of non-belief for a player who has been forever ridiculed for not achieving more with all of his inherent ability. It must be those naysayers who fitted the Cavs for a toe tag when Kyrie Irving was lost in Game 1 (*raises hand*). “I have some other motivation that I won’t talk about right now, but I have so many different things to worry about than being an underdog or guys counting us out.” LeBron doesn’t appreciate the lack of respect, but that’s not it.
2) It is animosity toward Steph Curry for winning the MVP. It must bemuse LeBron to watch Curry moping and sulking around the court with a vastly superior supporting cast. Curry has been the national flavor of the year, serenaded with compliments, becoming the nation’s playoff talking point because of his marksmanship and daughter’s adorable podium antics. He has been called by some the greatest shooter of all-time by the age of 27. But he has not elevated his teammates in this series like LeBron has.
“I can’t say I wasn’t upset finishing third (in the MVP),” LeBron told Dwyane Wade on the ESPN set last night. “Because I know how much I bring to the table. I know how much I work on my craft. I can’t say I was happy finishing third, but I didn’t need that extra motivation.”
This series does test the levels of ridiculousness of awarding the MVP to anyone but James annually. Not Curry, nor James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis nor Kevin Durant could do this with this cast. LeBron has taken a lottery team, a squad that 17-year NBA veteran Eddie Johnson told me would win 15 games, within eight quarters of a championship. This against a 67-win opponent which had one of the best point-differentials in years. LeBron is the most valuable player to his team… every… single… year. But that’s probably not it either.
3) The fuel is Pat Riley. The real burr under LeBron’s saddle is the Silver Fox of South Beach. In April the Miami Don grinned with that “you’ll never find the body” look, then took a shot at LeBron. When asked about approaching this Heat offseason Riley said, “No more smiling faces with hidden agendas, so we’ll be going in clean.” In other words, we won’t be misled by our best player again.
Hidden agendas, huh? Well at least Riley knows of what he speaks. He ducked the Lakers with two years remaining on his contract when he saw the star fading on Showtime, and clashed with Jerry West. He abruptly resigned from the Knicks via fax despite being offered $15 million to stay, when he wasn’t getting more control over personnel moves. He sandbagged Stan Van Gundy midway through the ’05-’06 season, battling with his coach when they disagreed on how to run the ship. Riley then took that team to a championship, basked in the glory, while Shaq would later describe the whole Gordon Gecko power ploy as, “Stan got fired because Riley wanted to take over.”
So when Riley calls you a snake it’s completely hypocritical. And this is what bothers LeBron to no end. Unlike the way he handled his departure from Cleveland, LeBron alerted the Heat of his intentions before telling the world. He told Riley he was leaving a four-year dynasty to return to a lottery team. And how do you think Riley handled that? Probably with a disingenuous handshake, smile, and send off. You don’t think Riley had some flippant shot at the city of Cleveland that made its way back to LeBron? You don’t think Riley scoffed at the idea LeBron could win as big, and as quickly, as he had done in Miami? You don’t think Riley intimated, “After all I’ve done for you?” And guess how LeBron probably reacted: “How about after all I’ve done for you?”
The Miami Herald reported major discomfort at Wade’s September wedding when Lebron had to be cajoled into making pleasantries with Heat higher-ups. There’s some smoldering flames inside of LeBron that he’s not talking about right now. And the bet here is that smoldering is leftover Heat.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.