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LeBron’s out of context quote of the day: “At the end of the day it’s still just basketball”

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HOT TAKE TIME: LeBron James just does not care the way Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant did. That’s why he’ll never be as great as them.

If that first paragraph sums up your feelings, you best just move along. We’re going to go for context here. And maybe a little nuance. Those things may frighten you, these shade of gray rather than a world of black and white. You’re better off sticking to most sports talk radio (or some nationally televised sports debate shows).

LeBron James is a well-rounded person with a family — he married his high school girlfriend — and children that are his priority. He’s built a brand and a business empire around himself , coming from the home of a single parent, and finding smart friends along the way he could trust to be his partners. He’s the first NBA superstar of the social media age, and with that has come plenty of criticism his predecessors in that spotlight never did.

All that leads to this question and answer from LeBron speaking to the media in Cleveland Tuesday.

Q. You’ve always said that throughout your career things never came easy, you always had to go the hard route, hard path. With this situation right here that you’re in, do you feel like this is not comfortable territory but territory that you’re accustomed to?

LEBRON JAMES: Yeah, it’s something I am accustomed to. It’s something that I feel like is — that it’s okay for me to kind of always go back and know that I can refocus. I can get my guys ready, get myself ready. But you hate to continue to put yourself in these positions, but at the end of the day it’s still just basketball, man, and that’s what gives me comfortable and I’m more comfortable about it because it’s just a game. I prepare myself, I’m going to go out and do my job and live with the results.

Of course, the line that will get pulled out of that and discussed until tip-off on Wednesday is “at the end of the day it’s still just basketball, man, and that’s what gives me comfortable and I’m more comfortable about it because it’s just a game.”

The hot take cannon will be firing shots all over the web and on radio waves about how LeBron just doesn’t love the game like Jordan.  That is just flat-out BS. On several counts.

First, this is LeBron’s seventh straight Finals — he has been here before. He knows what has to be done. Some people will blast a lack of “not in my house” defiance from him, but that’s just simplistic. LeBron was literally in this spot with almost this exact same team one year ago (and they won Game 3 by 30), he knows the task at hand and a bunch of bravado is not the answer. Also, he said this in answer to a previous question, but it doesn’t make the same hot take:

“We got to protect home. It starts with tomorrow. One game at a time, one possession at a time, and cleaning up on some of the miscues that we have had in the first couple games and not have as many.”

Second, Jordan loved the game so much he partied in casinos and smoked cigars the nights before games. Can you imagine the images of Jordan that would have come out in an era of camera phones? Jordan is the GOAT (or you can at least argue that case very well), but we have mythologized him and his competitive obsession in a way that is not healthy. Same with Kobe. The emotional attachment of people to defend Jordan as the GOAT even when it’s not required always amuses me.

Third, LeBron is right. It’s a game. It’s entertainment. He was being honest, not waiving a white flag. He has unquestionably given his all this series, he’s done what he can to lift his team up. He’s incredibly competitive and if (when) they lose this series, he will rededicate himself to getting another ring next year no matter who stands in the way. But this is not the most important thing in the world by a long shot, and it’s not the most important thing in his life (he’s got people painting racial epithets on the gates of his home). Nor should it be. If it’s the most important thing in yours, maybe it’s time for some real self-evaluation.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.