They finally found a guy who can shut down LeBron James.
His name is Erik Spoelstra.
The Miami Heat coach shuttered the best player on the planet for the first time this season (a span of 73 games), along with sidekick Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, ruining what would have been a terrific Easter Sunday showdown.
Remember the old “NBA Action, it’s fantastic” campaign from the 1980s?
Nowadays, the slogan should be, “NBA Action, it’s fantastic if you catch your favorite all-star on a night when his head coach lets him play.”
Judging from the last two games played between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, we should just take the “fan” part out of the equation, because the fans rank somewhere behind making money, winning, global expansion and making more money.
Adding to San Antonio’s consternation was losing 88-86 on Chris Bosh’s cold-blooded 3-pointer with one second remaining, killing a golden chance for the Spurs to close the small gap separating the league’s top two records.
This game should have been called Operation Sit Down, Part II.
Back on Nov. 29, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich drew the ire of NBA fans when he sent Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker home before a nationally televised showdown in Miami, resulting in Commissioner David Stern fining the Spurs $250,000.
Stern concluded in a statement that “the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”
This time it was Miami’s turn.
With thousands waiting outside for the doors of the nearly sold-out AT&T Center to open, Spoelstra made his announcement 90 minutes before tipoff. James, out with a sore hamstring. Wade and Chalmers, out with ankles.
When asked if there was a possible connection between him resting his stars and Popovich’s doings on South Beach, Spoelstra told reporters, “I could see where you guys would draw those conclusions, but no.”
A giddy James declined to answer questions from reporters afterward.
“I’m off today,” quipped King James, seated next to a smiling Wade.
The feeling is the Chicago Bulls ruined what would have been a terrific showdown because there was no way James and Wade would have sat against the Spurs had they arrived in Texas with a 29-game winning streak.
The fans are the ones most hurt when coaches scratch their stars at the witching hour.
Take Hayden Weir and Matt Lopez, for instance. The Churchill High School seniors grew up as LeBron James fans. They persuaded their folks to splurge for Heat tickets at $276 apiece, and these seats were great, on the second row courtside, to the right side of the basket, 10 feet from the San Antonio bench. Both wore LeBron jerseys.
After getting the news about one hour before tipoff, the pair fashioned a cardboard poster with the words: “Come on, LeBron. It’s Easter” a futile attempt to persuade their hero to suit up.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Hayden told me. “We asked our parents for these tickets a year ago because we had never seen him play in person.”
“I’ve been a LeBron fan since I was in the eighth grade,” Matt said. “Then to wait a whole year, then get here and find out he’s not playing … it’s unbelievable.”
Computer engineer Tom Ervin plunked down $550 for great seats for him and teenage son Tommy.
“On the drive over, we were talking about how we have seen all these great players play in here but had never seen LeBron,” Ervin said. “I guess we will be having that same conversation on the way home.”
Another interested spectator also expressed his frustration.
“I talked to LeBron a couple of weeks ago on Twitter,” said Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. “I was a little upset when I found out he wasn’t playing.”
Here’s the cold, hard truth: If James and Wade needed a break after going all out to keep this historic streak going, then Spoelstra was completely within his rights to give them a rest, as was Pop when he rested his stars in Miami and in other games.
To his credit, Spoelstra happily took responsibility for sitting his two best players.
He also took a huge win.