I’m not sure if LeBron James watches Survivor, but he understands the theme: “Outwit, Outlast, Outplay.” James couldn’t outplay the Warriors or Draymond Green. A few minutes after Green came through with a weakside block on a James layup attempt, in the midst of a turnover-laden and thoroughly ineffective game from James, the two forwards became entangled near the top of the key.
What happened is up for interpretation, and the NBA interpreted the skirmish as worthy of a technical foul for James and a flagrant 1 foul for Green. Let’s take a look at what happened.
James pulled a fairly subtle martial arts move, taking Green’s arm and using his own left leg to trip Green.
I only took Jiu Jitsu classes until sixth grade, so other than how to fall properly I don’t remember a whole lot. But my friend, Jon, stuck with it, earned his black belt several years ago, and still practices and teaches Jiu Jitsu. He teased me for not remembering “deashi harai,” which is known as a Judo throw but is also practiced in Jiu Jitsu.
Then, James had a decision. He could either run around Green, wait for him to get up and jaw at him, or step over him like an old sleeping dog in the living room or a passed out homeless person on 6th and Mission (that may sound harsh, but if you ever find yourself in that godforsaken area of San Francisco, it’s sometimes necessary to take such measures).
James looked down at Green …
… and stepped over him. He didn’t just step over Green, either. He lingered, just a little.
Oh, and he teabagged him. That’s kind of important here.
— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) June 12, 2016
(Yes, I realize how ridiculous this is. But hey, this is the life we’ve chosen. Might as well keep rolling and see how this goes.)
James is no dummy. From the moment Green kicked Steven Adams in the groin a couple weeks ago and somehow escaped a suspension after a much more egregious act than the one he committed on Friday night, we all thought it possible that a player would bait Green into something. Someone like Adams, Matthew Dellavedova or Dahntay Jones. But the so-called King?
But James knew that in case of emergency he could try to break Green’s composure, and he took it upon himself to do so when his team’s season was in jeopardy. The best way to do that? Taunt him. “Son” him. Put his manhood in question with a move that doesn’t just feel unpleasant physically, but mentally as well. No one wants to be dominated, and James came as close as a player can to urinating on another man.
THAT BEING SAID, Green is far from blameless. A smart player like him should keep the bigger picture in mind at all times. Instead, he fell directly into James’ trap.
James surely couldn’t believe his luck when Brian Windhorst showed him a clip of the incident after the game. All he wanted was for Green to retaliate in a way that would keep him out of one NBA Finals game, perhaps two. But Green’s reputation as a nut-seeker already placed him on millimeter-thin ice with the NBA, who James gently prodded after the game.
“Well, I don’t know what should happen. It’s not my call. That’s the League Office. They’ll take a look at it. We all saw it in the locker room,” said James, who was either not hit in the genitals, or possesses a titanium scrotum and a penis made of cast iron, because he didn’t react like Adams or Bismack Biyombo did when they were struck in their respective packages in previous playoff games. He barely reacted at all to the smack, but he sure didn’t like being called a naughty word.
Also, Green also flung his right arm toward James one more time. That’s when it became obvious that James’ ploy worked. Green was beyond upset, and couldn’t help himself.
The two players slammed into each other, argued, and soon a double foul was called. Green infuriated James by calling him a “bitch,” and if my lip-reading skills are decent, it looked like James said, “Don’t call me a bitch again,” or something similar.
Seriously, who cares about that. Players in contact sports have been calling each other that and worse for decades. Doesn’t make it right, but it’s not like Green called him a racial epithet or disrespected his children.
But James’ mind wasn’t focused on Game 4 throughout the final minutes. He tried to horsecollar Steph Curry a little while later, and spent the final minute padding his stats with layups, even though the Cavs’ deficit called for 3-pointers. But his decision to target Green was a calculated baiting with an eye toward Game 5.
“A guy does something like that, you kind of lose respect for him. I had a lot of respect for LeBron over his career, since he was in high school. But, do things like that to get a guy suspended? That kind of disrespectful,” said Mo Speights.
Speights isn’t alone. Just about everyone realizes that Green made mistakes of his own, but only staunch James supporters and Cavs fans see James’ actions as anything other than petty.
Yet one could contend that what James did isn’t different from any of the other foul play(s) that occur in the heat of battle and are later justified with oft-said quotes like “it’s the playoffs” or “it’s the NBA Finals.” Green showed a weakness throughout this postseason, when he tossed Michael Beasley to the deck at the end of Game 3 of the Warriors’ first round series with the Rockets (one flagrant foul point), as well as the flailing kick to Adams (two points after his flagrant 1 was upgraded to a flagrant 2).
But there’s something unique about James, one of the best players of all time, resorting to political tactics during the NBA Finals, and then claiming to “take the high road” when he was told that Klay Thompson said the NBA is a “man’s league” and maybe James’ feelings were hurt. James knows the rules, both in the NBA’s rulebook and the unwritten ones for the most supreme of superstars — the latter set of rules says he can choose his teammates, angle for a new coach, and point toward his amazing stature (he’s found of saying “as the leader of this team …”) at every opportunity.
Cynical? Sure, but James knows that if any player in the league has enough sway to convince the NBA to suspend a key player for a move that didn’t appear to actually hurt the “victim,” it’s him.
Warriors bracing for a Draymond Green suspension (if LeBron play is upgraded to Flagrant 1), & it seems best hope might be a tech instead.
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) June 12, 2016
NBA could go that route, levying discipline w/out triggering suspension that’s result of past Draymond flagrants. LeBron factor looms large.
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) June 12, 2016
The league seethes when concept of star treatment is brought up, but no way that isn’t part of political discussion. This isn’t Steven Adams
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) June 12, 2016
James and Green were battling in a game of high-stakes poker, and James (the mayor’s or police chief’s pampered son in this case) knew Green was on probation. When Green’s stacks grew toward the sky and James’ chips dwindled to almost zero, James picked a fight — not with the intention of fighting, but with the intention of convincing the police to haul Green away before James was forced to admit total defeat.
Is it Green’s fault for being on probation in the first place? Absolutely. The NBA’s point system seems ridiculous for the playoffs, since officials (and the league) call a lot of flagrants and the points keep accumulating over the course of, in Green’s case, 21 games. Plus, a large fine seems more sensible than removing a guy with no more than three games remaining in the entire season. However, Green knew just as much about the point system as James (he was surely reminded of his status on a near-daily basis by his coaches, teammates, GM and PR staff), and his job in the last four games of the Western Conference Finals, and the entirety of the NBA Finals, was to refrain from fouling someone in a way that either hurt an opposing player, or (like in this case), looked awful given his recent history.
In all, it’s a sad situation. Green’s passion and pride overcame his ability to survive just one more game. James’ cynical and opportunistic nature overshadows a series with more than enough stories to tell without this soap opera-esque turn. Well, for now. James outwitted Green this time, but that doesn’t mean his team won’t get outplayed — even when facing a team without its second-best player — tomorrow. And with two more games left to play IF the Cavaliers win Game 5, James still faces quite the uphill battle if he wants to outlast the Warriors.