254 Minutes

LeBron James went 254 on-court minutes, and nearly two weeks of real-world time, without being called for a foul. How did this happen?
Share |

100. 61. 755. 2,105. 56. 11. 4,256.  Name your own. The relationship between a sport and its most transcendent numbers isn’t complicated, but it’s not a one-way affair, either.

The sport lends the numbers meaning and context and hot-blooded narrative; the numbers give the game shape; an objective anchor comprehensible and quantified, if not quite always all-encompassing.

When the relationship is working, one number can do a great many things: signify both some single remarkable thing and fit it with context; speak with some spare poetry about an accomplishment; put a face on something insurmountable or unprecedented. This is how it works, when it works. And then sometimes a number is just bullshit.

LeBron James has a host of notable numbers to his credit, and may own many more by the time his career ends around 2040. But the number he bore some weeks ago, when he managed to play 254 minutes at the universe’s highest level of basketball without committing a single foul – of the offensive, defensive, spilled-Jager-bomb-party variety – should not be one of those numbers. Because if this number tells a story at all, it’s not an especially compelling one, nor one that says much good about the NBA circa now. This is one of those numbers, in short, that’s mostly bullshit.

***

Associating a mere lack of transgressions with greatness – fouls, in this case – bastardizes the visceral weight we’ve learned to lend the feats of Rose, Wilt, or Joltin’ Joe. Most is in general a far sexier qualifier than least, or in this case, zero. That is unless we’re talking about no-hitters or perfect games or scoreless innings, of course, which we’re not. We’re talking about the cold ludicrousness of the fact that LeBron James played 254 minutes without being whistled for a foul.

Two hundred and fifty-four minutes is, in basketball if not in cosmic terms, a long-ass time. You can tell that just by counting the letters it took to type that. The mere phrase “Two hundred and fifty-four minutes” is longer than most Hemingway sentences.

It is also enough time for you, the reader, to accomplish any one of the following things:

  • Run an above-average marathon
  • Fly from New York to Detroit and back
  • Watch Magnolia and three episodes of Man Vs. Food
  • Or roughly half of Roots
  • Crochet two sweaters
  • Build a passable birdhouse
  • Listen to Sgt. Pepper’s six times and still have room for one more spin of Side One
  • Complete the first three series of Ashtanga yoga
  • Conduct an entire larceny trial, given sufficient evidence
  • Bake a 30-pound turkey

Again, long-ass time. And yet, the reaction to LeBron’s record setting feat, which spanned nearly a fortnight in earth time, seemed to run a disproportionately quick course. A flurry of reactions ranging from the laudatory to the outright offended, and then… silence. We just stopped talking about it. Which is maybe a reasonable enough thing to do, given that the number and the achievement is both dull and ridiculous. But let’s give it maybe a little more time. Because it’s just dull enough and ridiculous enough to deserve it.

***

Did we stop talking about it, maybe, because we knew it was wrong? Even when McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds were taking their respective dope-muscled runs at Maris and Aaron, our fear and anger at the possibility that they might be cutting a few corners was tempered somewhat by two, borderline-unimpeachable facts. The first was that a lot of other baseball dudes – including pitchers – were taking the same shit, and the second was that it is in general simply  fun to watch, even a little guiltily, as Herculean feats fall at the feet of new heroes.

With LeBron’s record, the guilt is a little closer to the surface. There was and remains a psychic undercurrent of staged nepotism to this record’s fall – here’s proof, if we want it, that “star treatment” in the NBA has hit an absurd zenith. This was less a record to laud than a fraud best forgotten, something like Mark McGwire’s wince-inducing home run tally, which voters for Baseball’s Hall of Fame seem quite happy to continue ignoring.

But the principle is largely the same: No one is that good, or this good in this way for this long. Even the best baller on the planet – and that’s LeBron right now, who may arguably be the best that ever lived by the time he’s done – is human, though his brand of rinse-and-repeat greatness and stunning feats seem always to suggest otherwise. Even being the most fundamentally sound defender in the world does not and cannot negate the fact that your 400-plus colleagues and not-quite-peers are also incredibly good at what they do. They’re the quickest, the fastest, the strongest, and if LeBron is the best they’re mostly close enough to, say, draw a charge or a block or a reach-in from him at least once a game, let alone once every two weeks.

LeBron’s record rings hollow precisely because its achievement depends upon a more closely entangled third party – in this case a trio of on-court referees – than records in almost any other sport. Might Joe DiMaggio have benefited from a generous corner or two? Sure. Did Eric Dickerson’s offensive line get away with a jersey grab or junk kick here and again? Possibly, probably. But in neither of those two sports do officials wield the kind of consistent, second-by-second influence enjoyed by their parquet peers.

Of course LeBron James committed fouls in those 254 minutes. They just weren’t called.

Which gets to the rancid nut of it, the real reason why this record reeks so badly. More than any other sport, basketball’s biggest problem is one of fan perception, particularly when it comes to the role and influence of its officiants. I wrote a little bit about this a while back for the Times, and argued for a kind of hybrid “call your own” foul system. The crux of my case being that the N.B.A. still hasn’t fully recovered from the credibility crippling Tim Donaghy scandal, and that the league’s refs are hugely flawed even when they’re honest. It was an unlikely suggestion, admittedly, but what better way to reinstate some semblance of honor than to have its most controversial duty adhere more to the game’s playground roots and ethics. There is no way that LeBron would or more to the point could play five-plus games in a row without getting called for a foul under those rules.

The idea was meant less as a panacea than as a modest proposal: a way to show the fans that – as is seen to be the case in football, baseball, hockey, soccer, and other pastimes – the players were in control, and that the referees were merely there to maintain order, not define and redefine and re-redefine it. It was just an idea, but if it’s not a solution this problem it’s at least worth acknowledging that the problem exists.

***

More to the point, this is a record that says nothing much good about its owner, and many not-good things about the league in which he plays. When a sport’s most transcendent star can go 254 minutes without being called for a foul, it only reinforces the creeping suspicion that David Stern’s NBA has staked too much on subjugating truth to narrative, and narrative to ratings. The narrative in the NBA right now is of a superstar redeemed, a once-in-a-generation talent exorcising the ghosts of stupid youth to embrace his superheroism: a really buff Spiderman with an all too human hairline. His penance paid, LeBron can now enjoy as free a reign as is feasible without seeing Stern tipping the Vaudeville hat completely.

This is perverse in its own right, but more so in its ramifications. Two days after Dwayne Wade was suspended for literally kicking Ramon Sessions in the nuts during a December 26th tilt in Charlotte, the Heat released a public statement in which they both defended Wade’s reputation and not-so-subtly suggested that the league has made a policy of standing idly by whilst other teams “take privilege “ with Miami’s players. Meaning stars, of course.

To square this kind of martyr’s song with LeBron’s 254 foul-free minutes requires either tremendous mental gymnastics or whatever laser cut the Pyramids. The idea that James, Wade, Bosh and the rest get no ref respect is ludicrous, of course. But that’s what makes the whole thing so fascinating – the naked arrogance, and the implicit admission that winning in the NBA is less about the Xs and the Os than the Jims and the Joes. Last names Capers and Crawford, apparently.

Last year, my friend (and Classical colleague) Robert Silverman answered a ref-blurt of mine with what remains, to my mind anyway, the most compelling context for understanding the uniquely delicate role of referees in basketball. Sports and life, Robert said, are doomed to be unfair; referees, like the people you interact with either directly or tangentially every day, are fortune’s unpredictable agents. Like the guy riding a little too close to you on the freeway, NBA refs can pump the brakes and let traffic flow, or they can wreck your shit. There’s not much you can do to prevent or guarantee either outcome except keep driving.

Refs aren’t agents of order, in short, so much as they’re (ironically identified) agents of chaos. Not arbiters, then, but just characters on another of life’s strange stages, a place where people win and lose and smile and cry and even the best laid game plans can be gasoline soaked and set alight by Bennett Salvatore.

Which necessarily makes LeBron our Marlon Brando or Robert DeNiro or Daniel Day-Lewis: the king of his craft, the leading man. That’s why it’s so hard to stay mad at him, even in the wake of such a transparently ridiculous “record.” He’s the best.

But even the best players are only as brilliant as their script. LeBron’s has, this record and last year’s title notwithstanding, not been the easiest or most linear of scripts. Prep-to-pro, the Finals failures, The Decision – these are not easy roles. And yet he is there at awards season every year, because he’s great and he’s earned it and he continues to earn it. Just not for this 254-minute epic. This time, we fed him too many lines.

 

Jim is a regular contributor to Knickerblogger, the True Hoop Network's Knicks affiliate blog. His work also appears regularly at the New York Times' Off the Dribble NBA blog and ESPN. A lifelong hoops lover, Jim has always insisted on wearing glasses during games, a life choice that has earned him the occasional chant of Ram-bis and cost him hundreds of dollars in repairs. He currently leads his old man league in techs and three pointers attempted. Follow him on Twitter @JPCavan.


Share |

Comments

It should be noted that whilst ordering papers for sale at paper writing service, you can get unkind attitude. In case you feel that the bureau is trying to cheat you, don't buy term paper from it. Phoenix Building Demolition

That made three goals for more info
Shelton on the night, giving her a hat trick

sex can't get married, more information
that is taking away their rights, even if it offends people in this world that doesn't matter, they're not hurting you

He has to be very well self trained. Would like to see more of your factories.I sure have liked the ride. !!! find a maths tutor

I feel really happy to have seen your webpage and look forward to so many more entertaining times reading here. Thanks once more for all the details.Social Media Calendar

you are providing and you give it away for free. I love seeing blog that understand maths online software

that is taking away their rights, even physician assistant schools
if it offends people in this world that doesn't matter, they're not hurting you.

insurmountable or unprecedented. This is how it works, when it works. And then sometimes a number is just bullshit. loft conversion design ideas

I can see that you are an expert at your field! I am launching a website soon, and your information will be very useful for me.... filipino channel

website soon, and your information will be very useful for me.. Thanks for all your help and wishing yoU.. viagra bestellen

We’re talking about the cold ludicrousness amazon seller central forums
of the fact that LeBron James played 254 minutes without being whistled for a foul.

Because if this number tells a story at all, it’s not an especially compelling one, nor one that says much good about the NBA circa now.escorts bogota

I was looking at some of your posts on this website and I conceive this web site is really instructive! Keep putting up...blackberry phone unlock code

I’m happy to find so many useful info here in the post, we need work out more techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing..sellercentral.amazon.com forum

Many thanks greatly with this excellent post; this is actually the items that retains me personally dealing with away these types of day time.
learn more about debt management

They will need to be able to avoid accidents and function at school. In fact, many preschools and daycares are actually turning away children because they are not yet fully potty trained. potty training in 3 days on eubookshop.com

I am new to weblog and definitely liked this blog site. Very likely I’m going to bookmark your blog..reversible basketball jerseys

This is fine to read and valuable pro potential,I really bookmark it, pro broaden read. Appreciation pro sharing. I like it...boiler repair and servicing manchester uk

credit, and may own many more by the time his career ends around 2040. But the number he bore some weeks ago, when he managed bekijk de homepage

-party variety – should not be one of those numbers. Because if this number tells a story at all, it’s not an especially.. food

Thanks a lot for sharing this amazing knowledge with us. This site is fantastic. I always find great knowledge from it happy birthday wishes

enough to, say, draw a charge or a block or a reach-in from him at least once a game, let alone once every two weeks. www.phen375reviewsguide.com

Namun sebelum anda memutuskan menggunakan salah satu treatment tersebut sebaiknya telah jelas terlebih dahulu mengenai efek samping yang ditimbulkan.
E-Cigarettes New Zealand

The Blog Commenting Service is one of the best strategies to enhance the link building of any website and enable it to receive improved rankings in different search engines...houston agency

shitting away fan goodwill is one of Vincent Kennedy McMahon's favorite activities. And so it was on Sunday night.Official Website

spilled-Jager-bomb-party variety – should not be one of those numbers. Because if this number tells a story at all, it’s not an especially compelling one, nor one that says much good about the NBA circa now. This is one of those numbers, in short, that’s mostly bullshit.
ejuice subscription box

much good about the NBA circa now. This is one of those numbers, in short, that’s mostly bullshit. www.cobybingo.com

material. Thank you so much for caring about your content and your readers.. Russian Faberge Eggs

I agree with your blog and i will be back to check it more in the future so please keep up your work. michael kors outleti love your content & the way that you write. divorce lawyers

says much good about the NBA circa now. This is one of those numbers, in short, that’s mostly bullshit click this link

between day and night, but also cheapest online pharmacy
has a tough shell, which is true for the expedition challenge the limits....

This is one of those numbers, in short, that’s mostly bullshit.survive the end days pdf

Increase Rankings, And Build Authority. With Years Of Experience We Know Exactly What Type Of Manual Dofollow Blog Comments I pharm tech certification
t Takes To Quickly Increase Your Online Visibility.......

this number tells a story at all, it’s not an especially compelling one, nor one that says much good about the NBA circa now. car rental st lucia

There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also. Keep working, Durban Accommodation

writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well pest control

Wow! It's about time this place got on the radar! I remember attending the after school program there in middle school about 20 yrs ago. Best place in the world for us kids who weren't as fortunate! Made the biggest impact in my life.travel tour publication

I found that site very usefull and this survey is very cirious, I ' ve never seen a blog that demand a survey for this actions, very curious...PDFs Directory

It's a great pleasure reading your post.It's full of information I am looking for and I love to post a comment that "The content of your post is awesome" Great work! Free Ebooks

Our goal is to provide a complete toolchain for developing multi-platform games both for Web and Mobile, all the way from rapid prototyping to a finished high performing game.inventory management application

Most is in general a far sexier qualifier than least, or in this case, zero. That is unless we’re talking about no-hitters or perfect games or scoreless innings, of course, which we’re not. We’re talking about the cold ludicrousness of the fact that LeBron James played 254 minutes without being whistled for a foul.Laboratory

So fortunes to run over your incredible online journal. Your online journal presents to me a lot of fun.. Good fortunes with the site.. how to hit a punching bag

I trust you made some decent focuses in features.good site that has all the data on the subject of the source code furthermore with respect to the python designsdom za starije

The website is looking bit flashy and it catches the visitors eyes. Design is pretty simple and a good user friendly interface. shower stalls with seat

Because if this number tells a story at all, it’s not an especially compelling one, nor one that says much good about the sash windows london

The information you have posted is very useful. The sites you have referred was good. Thanks for sharing.. bee removal san antonio

We Are A Full-Service Provider Of High Quality Backlinks That Help Boost Traffic, Increase Rankings, And Build Authority. With Years Of Experience We Know Exactly What Type Of Manual Dofollow Blog Comments It Takes To Quickly Increase Your Online Visibility
Backlinks

The state. She is or has been a member of multiple committees on sentencing reform and rules of criminal procedure warm gloves

Because if this number tells a story at all, it’s not an especially compelling one, nor one that says much good about the rebelmouse com

sufficient, for the fantasti c lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates.... real estate