On Monday night in Cleveland, LeBron James scored 44 points to lead the Cavaliers to a 111–102 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. In a piece for ESPN, Brian Windhorst argues that James’ greatness has become banal. After James’ sixth 40-point game of the 2018 playoffs, Windhorst writes, “there was a collective shrug.” As evidence, he cites the following post-game conversation between James and his youngest child.
In the locker room as he iced his body after yet another 40-minute outing, James was talking to his 3-year-old daughter, Zhuri, on FaceTime when she asked to talk to Kevin Love. James passed the phone to Love and Zhuri complimented Love on his game, which included 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers and five fouls.
“I think you meant to say that to your dad,” Love said. “I don’t know what game you were watching.”
According to Windhorst, Zhuri is “immune from her father’s routine awesomeness.” But I believe Windhorst and Love are both underestimating the 3-year-old. LeBron James has the best basketball mind in the world, and it’d be naïve to think he hasn’t passed on that wisdom to his children.
Zhuri knows there’s no reason, strategically, to tell her dad he played well, especially in front of his teammates. Tristan Thompson and Kyle Korver also collected a huge amount of compliments after Game 4; her praise would’ve been superfluous. But Kevin Love—that man needed some love.
As Windhorst noted, the Cavs’ second-best player put up some really bad numbers on Monday, and he spent most of the game in foul trouble. Zhuri James was watching the game. She knows the rules. And she knows her dad isn’t going to make it to the NBA Finals without Love playing his best.
“I mean, he’s a huge part of our success or our non-success,” LeBron said after Love struggled in Game 6 of the Cavs’ first-round series against the Indiana Pacers. “Obviously, we try to go to him, we want to go to him. Obviously, we can’t make the shots for him. He has to step up and knock those down.” Zhuri, for her part, uses a different motivational technique. The subtext of her FaceTime comments was clear: I haven’t forgotten about you. I haven’t lost faith in you. I believe in you.
Also, Zhuri clearly appreciates a sweet outlet pass:
Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals is Wednesday night. The series is tied 2–2. Zhuri James will be ready.
I’m guessing Kevin Love will be ready, too.