Finley says James knows the score
Michael Finley met LeBron James early in his high school career, when the hype around the phenom was starting to swirl.
“I met him when he was LeBron James,’’ Finley said. “Before he became ‘King James.’ ’’
A decade later, Finley has watched James go from a high schooler with potential to an NBA superstar about to make the biggest decision of his professional career. James’s summer started earlier than he intended when the Celtics eliminated the Cavaliers in six games Thursday night, forcing James to deal with the question of free agency before he had anticipated. Missing the Finals for the second straight season, despite the Cavaliers’ terrific regular season, adds to the pressure.
“He’s 25 but he’s been getting this kind of pressure since the eighth grade,’’ Finley said. “I met LeBron early in his high school career. When he came in the gym, it’s the same media attention that he’s getting now. He’s used to it. It doesn’t faze him. He’s a good kid and in my opinion he has the most pressure of anyone in the NBA on his shoulders night in, night out as a professional.’’
James was not aggressive in Game 5 against the Celtics, opening himself to critics who say he is unable to lead a team to a championship. Finley said it’s unfair to be saddled with that kind of blame.
“If losing this series is the black mark on his career, I think that’s unfortunate,’’ Finley said.
Several Celtics spoke to James as the teams left the floor Thursday. Looking at James’s situation, Kevin Garnett reflected on his time in Minnesota. The deepest Garnett and the Timberwolves made it was the Western Conference finals in 2004. He thought about how many of his best years he spent trying in vain to lead the Timberwolves to a title.
“Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can’t get youth back,’’ Garnett said. “I can honestly say that if I can go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I’d have done it a little sooner.
“But I don’t know what’s going through [James’s] mind. He’s a different individual. I haven’t spoken to him or anything, but the world is his.’’
Finley has been on two teams that dashed James’s title hopes — the Celtics and the 2007 Spurs, who swept Cleveland in the Finals.
“Great players will win a game or two, great teams win series,’’ Finley said. “In my opinion we were the better team in the series. It was a tough series for him. He needed some help. Not just one or two games, but some consistent help. When you have that, it takes a little bit of pressure off the superstar.’’
As far as what toll the series will take on James this summer, Finley said, “Really, only one person knows that and that’s LeBron. He’s used to this attention. He’s had it since high school. I just go on record as saying he’s going to do what’s best for LeBron.’’