CLEVELAND — Over the past nine months, LeBron James has resembled a character from David Mamet’s real estate-centric drama Glengarry Glen Ross. He’s lived the play's mantra “A-B-C: Always Be Closing” by doing his best impression of a prime-time closer, following his leads and recruiting the principal pieces of a potential championship roster. He made convincing calls to then-prospective teammates Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, James Jones and Mike Miller. The silver-tongued James saved his finest work for earlier this week when he persuaded recently-released forward Kendrick Perkins to join him in frigid Cleveland instead of escaping to the balmy environs of Los Angeles, where he was being courted by his former coach Doc Rivers to bolster the Clippers frontline.
“LeBron said, ‘Come on—be a part of the family,” says Perkins, who first played with James during AAU ball as a member of the Oakland (Calif.) Soldiers. “I’ve been wanting to play with him again for about 14 years.”
On Thursday night, in Perkins' second game with the Cavaliers, he got to watch an inspired version of his old pal against the Golden State Warriors. There’s been talk James is miffed about not being one of the first names mentioned in the MVP discussion. Playing as if he had something to prove against the current MVP favorite, Stephen Curry, James scored a season-high 42 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Cavaliers' 110-99 win. Curry finished with 18 points and six assists.
“It’s probably not a coincidence that LeBron put together this type of game tonight,” says Cavaliers coach David Blatt. “He had a little extra oomph.” (If you’re scoring at home, James next matchup against an MVP front-runner, James Harden, comes when the Cavaliers meet the Rockets on Sunday.)
“I’ve got to be an MVP for these guys,” says James, who arrived about three hours early to take extra shooting practice. “There are 14 other guys in this locker room.”
It’s been a rewarding couple weeks for the homecoming King, who was named vice president of the NBA Players Association, passed Allen Iverson to become the league’s twenty-second all-time scorer and then surpassed Scottie Pippen as the NBA’s frontline player with the most career assists. There were also rumors that he’d get a break on the cost of his son’s college tuition: Though only 10, LeBronJr. had reportedly received several college scholarship offers.
James said the game against the Warriors had a decidedly June feel to it, which gave a post-season taste to Love and Kyrie Irving, neither of whom has participated in a single playoff game.
“We’ve been playing both sides of the ball very well,” says Love. “We’ve really been locked-in defensively. We’re committed to playing a solid 48 minutes.”
In winning 18 of their past 20 games, the Cavaliers are not only clicking at the right time but having a blast in doing so. Last Sunday against the Knicks, J.R. Smithflushed a reverse dunk off a long alley-oop pass from Iman Shumpert. As he headed toward the bench, he was greeted by an emphatic embrace from James. Blatt nodded his head and said, “Thank you for the price of admission.”
“He said he’d never seen anything like that,” says Smith. “He said he’d never even dreamed of stuff like that. He made me feel really good.”
“I don’t know what’s been said about [Smith] before,” says Blatt. “But from Day One that guy’s been a pleasure.”
And speaking of turnarounds, it’s hard to imagine that only about six weeks ago, folks were questioning whether Blatt would survive the season. Now his team is fighting for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. Since Jan. 15, the Cavaliers are an NBA-best 18-2. Over that stretch, Cleveland ranks first in point per game differential (+12.3), first in field goal percentage (.477) and first in three-pointers made (215).
“We’re doing what we have to do,” says Blatt, in typical understatement. “And the guys are working hard out there.”
Which brings to mind another lively exchange from Glengarry Glen Ross: a caustic corporate trainer reminds several real estate agents of an in-house incentive for selling the most property. “First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado ... Second prize is a set of steak knives. Get the picture?”
James gets the picture and with a message-sending victory against the Warriors, he’s not in the market for more cutlery.