By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

When the shirt arrived it was like Christmas in May.

Witness

That's all it said.

LeBron James
Paul Sancya/AP Photo
Watch LeBron bite his nails while you can.

Because that's what we all are.

For the past seven years, since his first high school game, wearing No. 32, when football was his favorite sport, I've personally been a witness to the post-Tiger Woods phenomenon that has now reached its apex: LeBron James. The Era officially began a couple weeks ago. With Playoff Game 1. Nike blessed me with the shirt just in time. He messed around and dropped an Ice Cube. 32/11/11. It was a good day.

But yesterday wasn't. And today may not be one either. Neither will Friday, Sunday nor any day next week. Because, for possibly the first time in his professional career, LeBron James is about to face greater greatness. Something greater than he.

Understand, the Pistons are witnesses too. But none of them has the T-shirt.

Yet their role in what we're about to witness happen to LeBron is essential to what's going to make that "Best Ever" tag placed on him accurate. This series will be the best thing that ever happens to LeBron.

He just doesn't know it yet.


"You miss both of these free throws, y'all goin' home."
-- LeBron James to Gilbert Arenas at the end of Game 6

He had his Scottie Pippen moment, his "the Mailman doesn't deliver on Sunday" moment.

It was one of those moments that showed us just how "gangsta" LeBron James can be.

That 35.7 ppg in Round 1, that showed how phenom he can be. The fact he went scoreless in the second half of Game 1 against the Pistons showed how serious it's gonna be.

LeBron did what many thought he wouldn't, couldn't. He became the best player in the game this soon. He knew it would come once he got here -- got to play in April, May … June.

In his opus in ESPN the Magazine he said as much: "Part of being considered the best is having rivalries. I don't have any at this point. Rivalries start in the playoffs. I'll tell you what, I'll be happy for it to start. I haven't been a part of the playoffs yet, but I will be this year. Then we'll see if a rivalry develops."

If Tayshaun Price isn't the beginning of a rivalry, if he isn't the genesis of LeBron being considered the best, then all of us witnesses need to be in protection programs.

LeBron James
Paul Sancya/AP Photo
LeBron will suffer through this series, but starting next year, watch out.

The nail-biting will stop. The headband will come off. The ice grills at the end of games he wins are going to disappear. Everything that makes up LBJ's total package -- mannerisms, superstitions, etc. -- will evaporate once this series with the Pistons is over.

From then on the LeBron James we are witnessing right now will no longer exist. This series will change him forever. Much like the original legendary Detroit teams of the past shaped, then changed Michael Jordan in the late '80s, this second legendary Detroit squad will do the same to James. Because once Jordan made it his "mission" to defeat the team that had not only stopped him from getting to the Finals, but humiliated him in the way it did -- that made MJ and crew never relinquish anything once they got past the Pistons.

Not only will the Pistons' 4-0 or 4-1 series win make LeBron face linear defeat for the first time in his career, the beatdown the Pistons will hand out will make him make sure he'll never go through anything like it again.

Which is why this series is going to be the best thing that's ever happened to him.

In witnessing LeBron for as long as I have or as long as anyone has, everyone from his high school coach Dru Joyce, to former Cavs coach John Lucas (who lost his job for "allowing" Bron to play with his team while he was still in high school), to Len Merritt (who spearheaded Nike's initial pursuit of him), to Maurice Clarett (who watched himself and LBJ rule Ohio for about three years before Clarett thought he was football's LeBron), will tell you that he holds on to things internally to make himself stronger.

He remixes Nietzsche.

Every negative experience, every downfall, he turns into a life lesson. Which turns into his personal pursuit. Which turns into his application to basketball. Which leads him to fascinate us in ways we've never seen someone so young be able to do.

Which is why two years from now, the impact and imprint of the ass-whuppin' the Pistons are about to hand him will be the reason he'll have his first of the seven or eight championship trophies he's destined to get before he actually becomes that old man he played in "The LeBron's" last year.

This series is going to be his biggest challenge. Being here is going to push him to search for answers. Losing here is going to push him to never want to experience that feeling ever again.

Which is where greatness comes from. It's where it is born.

And even though he might be 10-12 ppg off of his initial playoff average when this series is all said and done, we'll all be able to say years from now that we were witnesses to when LeBron James was really born. Not the day he got drafted, not the day he became the youngest player to ever win an All-Star MVP.

It'll be the day the Detroit Pistons eliminated him from the 2006 playoffs.

That day he'll always remember.


What not many people know is that before his first playoff game, LeBron's "second mom" (Brenda Lewis-Weens, the mother of one of LeBron's best friends, Brandon) died. She had cancer, but nevertheless her death was unexpected. LeBron man'd up, wrote the R.I.P. in her honor on his shoe and played with a passion unseen since Magic trey-duced his way into the NBA Finals in 1980.

It was one of those moments that often define the resolve of an athlete -- where we witness the strength of that person, and find out who that person really is.

Because what is about to happen to LeBron -- and what has happened already -- is going to change not only him forever, but probably change the NBA as a whole, in that it will give "his era" a base. A moment of substance. It will be his Roy-Jones-Jr.-in-Seoul moment, his Kobe-rookie-year-vs.-Utah moment.

Which is why this is so revolutionary. Why this series is so consequential. Why the Pistons' winning -- maybe sweeping -- this series will be the best thing that ever happened to LeBron.

Just watch. Witness.

See, all of LeBron James' life, God has had a plan for him. And one of the most difficult things for God to do, especially for those to whom he's given so much talent, is to take things away from them to keep them hungry. To shape their souls.

LeBron's losing the MVP was Step 1.

Step 2 began on Sunday.

In the life of LeBron James, these are the last days when a simple black T-shirt with seven white letters on the front means what it means.

Beginning next season, being a witness is going to take on an entirely different meaning.

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. You can e-mail Scoop here. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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ONE DEFINING MOMENT