I can’t resist posting a little something in the wake of LeBron James’ 45-15-5 in Game 6 against the Celtics tonight. And be forewarned, this is some pure, uncut narrative right here. One game is not going to turn around the public perception of James, is not going to undo this narrative that’s taken hold that says he’s not clutch or doesn’t have enough heart to lead his team. But it’s hard not to look at a night like tonight—when he shot a ridiculous 73.1%—and not see that if tonight wasn’t it, it would be in basketball’s best interest for him to have a moment like the one Alyosha Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov following the death of his mentor, Starets Zosima. I’ve always loved this passage, a moment of tremendous internal reckoning for the youngest Karamazov, when in a flash the failure of miracle (many were expecting some kind of saintly sign following Zosima’s death, yet he begins to smell of death immediately) becomes a kind of salvation for Alyosha:
He did not even stop in the porch, but descended the steps quickly. His soul, brimming with ecstasy, was yearning for freedom, for wide-open spaces. Overhead, stretching into infinity, was the heavenly dome, full of silent, shimmering stars. From the zenith to the horizon stretched the forked outlines of the faintly visible Milky Way. A cool, silent, motionless night had enveloped the earth. The white towers and gilded cupolas of the monastery church gleamed in the sapphire night. The splendid autumn flowers in the beds around the house were dormant for the night. The silence of the earth seemed to merge with the silence of the heavens, the mystery of the earth appeared to reach out to the stars … Alyosha stood gazing; suddenly he fell to the ground, as though stunned.
He did not know why he was embracing the earth, he could not explain to himself why it was that he wanted to kiss it with such abandon, to kiss the whole of it, and yet he kept kissing it as he wept and sobbed, drenching it with his tears, and passionately swearing to love it, to love it for ever and ever … [W]ith each passing moment he became distinctly, almost palpably aware that something as firm and immutable as the vault of heaven was entering his soul. An idea seemed to be taking possession of his mind—and it would be for his whole life and eternity. He fell to the ground a weak adolescent, but when he rose to his feet he was a hardened warrior for life, and he felt and recognized this in a flash of ecstasy. And never, never in his whole life would Alyosha be able to forget this moment. [Translation by Ignat Avsey]
I’m not even sure such moments actually exist in our lives. There are no stats to measure such a change; when we feel something like this, though, maybe this is the way we tell it. Numbers can be accurate, but stories can be true. Was James’ game tonight a moment like that for him? Ultimately we don’t get to say. He gets to say: it’s up to him what story he writes for himself.