Last night, with the game nearly in hand LeBron James stood at the foul line at the Quickens Loans arena ready to shoot two free throws. The first free throw was a beauty. It fell through the middle of the hoop and splashed the net. Though LeBron had already missed five free throws that evening, it seemed he had things under wraps. After making the free throw, LeBron reached out for a perfunctory fist bump from Anderson Varajao. He grimaced briefly, and that’s when things got worrisome.
LeBron stepped to the line for his second free throw with his left foot forward. He cradled, spun the ball in his massive left hand, and then let loose with what I can only describe as a Dudleyesque free throw. The Bulls rebounded the miss, and called timeout. As his teammates and coaches looked on in confusion (Mike Brown, in particular had that look that said, “I’d love to yell at LeBron right now, but really I like my job”), LeBron walked down the court and offered some explanation to them. He spent the rest of the game cradling his right arm close to his body.
After the game, LeBron tried his best to reassure the Witnesses in Cleveland. A MRI taken prior to game five showed no damage. He described the symptom as numbness, rather than pain. However, the needling thought remains. LeBron has been dealing with this unknown affliction for at least one week, if not longer. The most bothersome fact remains that, whatever the problem is, this numbness forced LeBron to shoot with his off hand on a free throw, when a single point would have definitively put the game out of reach.
Cavalier fans now have three days to mull this over. Three days to wonder if the left handed free throw was necessary. Three days to wonder about what is wrong with their King’s arm, and how can it be fixed without being diagnosed first. Three days to wonder if their championship-or-bust trip will have a dissatisfying and familiar conclusion. This is Cleveland’s year, after all. They have put together their best roster ever. They have acquired the specific pieces required to surpass their conference rival, Orlando. They have the game’s best player, playing Oscar Robertson style basketball. He is supported by a cast that finally seems up to the task. It could all go south in one moment, if this numbness creeps up at the wrong time. There are no words emphatic enough to chase away that particular fear.