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

I truly delighted in perusing this post, enormous fan. Keep doing awesome me when would you be able to distribute more articles or where would I be able to peruse more on the subject? EZSHIPP

Just lately, I didnrrrt offer lots of consideration for you to departing answers on-page page accounts and still have positioned replies actually much less. Examining by using your enjoyable article, can assist myself to do this sometimes. best computer guide

une femme pourra être très touche si son partenaire a le trouble de l’éjaculation précoce et surtout si son partenaire lui même ne lui en parle pas et ça va être très dur pour elle vu qu'elle n'arrive pas a jouir en sa compagnie éjaculation prématurée

I really like and appreciate your blog post.Much thanks again. Want more. whoa, wonderful blog article.Really thank you! Awesome. Very informative blog.Much thanks again.
maxi dresses

vacation in a group Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

Exceptionally helpful data. Would like to see more posts soon!. onlinecasinosrbija.rs

i read a considerable measure of stuff and i found that the method for composing to clearifing that precisely need to say was great so i am awed and ilike to come back again in future.. intensivo de espanhol

I would never want to miss out any opportunity to read out your contents. Brian Holm Attorney San Diego

make a custom coffee mug Once I thought about things like: why such information is for free here? Because when you write a book then at least on selling a book you get a percentage. Thank you and good luck on informing people more about it…

Tree Pruning Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

Took me time to understand all of the comments, but I seriously enjoyed the write-up. It proved being really helpful to me and Im positive to all of the commenters right here! Its constantly nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I am certain you had enjoyable writing this write-up. pspk25

dentist in toronto ontario Once I thought about things like: why such information is for free here? Because when you write a book then at least on selling a book you get a percentage. Thank you and good luck on informing people more about it…

Dentist In Woodbridge VA at Woodbridge Smiles offers what's important in your search for family dentistry- the personalized total family care of a neighborhood dentist in conjunction with he benefits of high-tech dentistry. We have created an environment with your comfort as our number one priority. At Woodbridge Dental Clinic you will see a personalized touch right from chairs in waiting area to operatories in exam room. Pediatric Dentist Woodbridge VA

dresses Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

โกลเด้นสล็อต Once I thought about things like: why such information is for free here? Because when you write a book then at least on selling a book you get a percentage. Thank you and good luck on informing people more about it…

carpet protection Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

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. voyance par telephone

I high appreciate this post. It’s hard to find the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it! would you mind updating your blog with more information? capsa susun online

when he managed to play 254 minutes at the universe’s highest level of basketball without committing a single foul – of the offensive, defensive, https://www.facebook.com/unstoppablecriminals/

This was a truly incredible challenge and ideally I can go to the following one. It was alot of fun and I truly had a good time.. holm law group san diego

Rivercove residences ec Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

talking to santa claus Once I thought about things like: why such information is for free here? Because when you write a book then at least on selling a book you get a percentage. Thank you and good luck on informing people more about it…

Most of the time I don’t make comments on websites, but I'd like to say that this article really forced me to do so. Really nice post! sell my house fast

womens clothing Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

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 bible verses

From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work .. Truth OR Dare Questions

I high appreciate this post. It’s hard to find the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it! would you mind updating your blog with more information.. Stone Island

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. Payment Industry Processor

Much appreciated such a great amount for this data. I need to tell you I agree on a few of the focuses you make here and others may require some further audit, yet I can see your perspective. Colorado Springs Deck Builders

I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates.Professional Pyrography Kits

Much thanks to you for setting aside an ideal opportunity to distribute this data extremely valuable! Moncler

If you want to buy hosting from Hostgator then wait for Black Friday because on this day you can get maximum discount on all hosting plans. Canada Goose UK

This is such an awesome asset, to the point that you are giving and you give it away for nothing. I adore seeing sites that comprehend the benefit of giving a quality asset to free. It is the old what circumvents comes around schedule. one story house plans

I think this is a better than average article. You make this data intriguing and locks in. You give perusers a considerable measure to consider and I welcome that sort of composing. lightening-cream.net

This article gives the light in which we can watch the truth. This is extremely pleasant one and gives indepth data. A debt of gratitude is in order for this pleasant article. 1 Airport Taxi Minneapolis

s-bobet.com Once I thought about things like: why such information is for free here? Because when you write a book then at least on selling a book you get a percentage. Thank you and good luck on informing people more about it…

iaso tea Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

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. voyance tel

That's a great position you folks have been carrying out there. analyse boursiere

pounding home the message that there is still one place where dominant power-clutching fuckheads are in no danger. Los Angeles

Elements of a Successful Online Marketing Strategy Bulk Backlinks Manually created | Buy high pr low obl backlinks

There are various ways to make your affordable letterhead graphic design inspiration stand out. prints for cheap

essay writing services Once I thought about things like: why such information is for free here? Because when you write a book then at least on selling a book you get a percentage. Thank you and good luck on informing people more about it…

voyance par telephone Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

greetings was simply checking whether you minded a remark. i like your site and the thme you picked is super. I will be back. com

iaso tea Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

nor one that says much good about the NBA circa now. This is one of those numbers, in short, that’s mostly bullshit. ukrainian bride

Much appreciated such a great amount for this data. I need to tell you I agree on a few of the focuses you make here and others may require some further audit, yet I can see your perspective. assisted living in fort worth

Donna MIa Saarlouis ist ein traditionell italienisches Restaurant - das bedeutet sonnendurchflutete Räume, helles Holz und eingerahmte Bilder, die das italienische Leben widerspiegeln. Kombiniert mit unseren modernsten gastronomischen Standards, bieten wir Dir authentisches, mediterranes Flair und nach altem Handwerk hergstelltes, italienisches Essen. Kleiner Markt 1, 66740 Saarlouis Restaurant Saarlouis

subway surfers download Your blog provided us with valuable to work with. Each & every tips of your post are awesome. Thanks a lot for sharing. Keep blogging..