As I sit on my couch watching the sixth game of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami Heat are leading the Boston Celtics 59-44 with 9:31 left in the third quarter. Kevin Garnett just scored and threw the ball into Shane Battier, drawing a technical foul.
But this isn't about the game.
By the time you read this, the game will be over. It will be the next day. The Heat could win and force Game 7 in Miami on Saturday, or they could lose this game and go into the second offseason after the Big 3 era begun, still without a championship to show for all of the hype. The outcome of Game 6 doesn't matter. Only one thing does.
LeBron James will never lead the Heat to a championship.
I'm sorry; it does pain me to say it. There is a litany of articles you can read that will say, in essence, James will never realize his true place in history until he wins a championship. That he can never measure up to the greats like until he is able to secure that championship title. Some will declare that when talking about a player of James' caliber, a championship ring is inevitable.
But have you ever considered the possibility that it may never happen for James?
Consider this: James had an incredible first half in Game 6. He scored 30 points on 12-14 shooting from the field. Incredible doesn't adequately describe his first half. It was absolutely dominant. He was making tremendous shots and by the end of the second quarter, began attacking the rim and getting Celtics players in foul trouble. The camera panned on James' face, which showed an intensity and focus unlike anything Heat fans have ever seen from him.
And then, he did the inexplicable.
He gave Celtics PG Rajon Rondo what announcer Mike Breen described as a "respect tap."
Nobody saw it live, because ESPN was showing a replay. But their cameras caught the tap and aired the footage during a break in action. Sure enough, as James was lining up for a free throw, Rondo walked by and James reached out and gave him a tap. Rondo shot him a quizzical look, wondering why James was acknowledging him when he should be concentrating on hitting his free throws.
I wondered that as well.
And I'm sure that Rondo and I weren't the only two people in the world wondering why James tapped him.
In fact, there was at least a third person who wondered, and that person was Breen's announcing partner, Jeff Van Gundy.
You see, before Van Gundy was an ESPN announcer and better known as Stan Van Gundy's brother, he was the head coach of the New York Knicks in the years following Pat Riley's tenure there. During Van Gundy's years as the Knicks head coach and Riley's early years as the Heat head coach, the two teams met a few times in the playoffs. These games weren't just physical; they were organized and sanctioned melees. If you are old enough, you remember Jeff Van Gundy hanging onto Alonzo Mourning's leg in the middle of one of the many scuffles.
Van Gundy certainly remembers it. And he remembered it when he criticized the fact that teams are so openly friendly with each other when they should consider each other enemies, at least for 48 minutes. At no point do I remember Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, or Allan Houston reaching out to give Mourning, Tim Hardaway, or Dan Majerle a "respect tap." Why? Because they had a singular focus: to win.
James may have thought he was doing the right thing by acknowledging the awesome series that Rondo has had. Make no mistake, Rondo is asserting himself among the NBA's elite this series and for all the respect he gets, he may not get enough. But it is not James' place to recognize this during a playoff game when his team is facing elimination. It isn't his place during any game, but especially this one. Michael Jordan wouldn't have given Rondo, the Heat's Achilles heel, a "respect tap." Neither would Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, or any of the other great champions of this or any era. You know why? Because they are so focused on winning, on leading their team to a title, that they don't have time to compliment the opponent.
Do you know who else wouldn't have done that? Rondo, Kevin Garnett, or any other Celtics player in this series. They have a tunnel-vision focus on winning a championship, on proving all of their critics wrong. Many people have said they are too old, too slow to run with the Heat. Now, they have the Heat on the brink of elimination that nobody thought possible. They also don't care about the Heat or their hype. In Game 4 of this series, Rondo took a shot at the Heat for complaining to referees in transition during his interview at halftime. In Game 2, he scored 44 points, made 16 of his 24 field goal attempts, came up two rebounds shot of a triple double, and almost single-handedly beat the Heat.
And James thought it was appropriate to give him a "respect tap."
This doesn't mean that James or the Heat won't win a championship during his time here. As he has proven tonight, he is a supremely talented player capable of statistical dominance at any point. He may even lead the team in scoring and could still win a game on his own. But if the Heat are to win a championship, it will be up to Dwyane Wade to put this team over the top. He has done it once already and if he wants to win another championship, it will be on his shoulders, because he understands that when the cards are down, there should only be one thing on your mind.
True champions wouldn't have done what James did. I wonder what the Jordans, the Bryants, and the Duncans of the world thought when they saw James' show of "respect."
They probably thought the same thing I did.
James just doesn't have it in him.
Do you disagree with me? SB Nation Tampa Bay writer Daniel Russell does. Read his response to this editorial here.