Now, not a whole lot of sports fans in the United States know who Carlsen is. Unless you follow chess closely, his name would mean little. Carlsen is the greatest chess player since Bobby Fischer, which also means Carlsen is one of the smartest men on the planet.
His picking the Heat might not go down as the most taxing decision the 22-year-old Norwegian grand master will ever have to make. Neither is it the hardest people of ordinary intellect will have to make either, because it’s hard to see LeBron James and the Heat losing to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs.
In this postseason, LeBron & Co. have already had their defining moment. The consensus pick to win it all, LeBron and the Heat were pushed to the brink of elimination in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. In Game 7 on Monday, a big moment that can define a superstar’s career, James played his game like Carlsen plays chess: better than all the rest.
But conference finals aren’t NBA Finals, which begin Thursday night. The pressure that teams face on the game’s brightest stage can test any man’s resolve and frazzle his nerve. People used to question LeBron’s heart and his nerve. They claimed LeBron lacked the coldblooded, steely nerve that all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Bill Russell possessed.
LeBron brought that reputation with him to South Beach from Cleveland, where the Cavaliers team he once led never did win a NBA championship.
Talk about LeBron’s nerve, however, quieted last season after he took the Heat to an NBA championship. While a few critics tried to revive such talk – not the smart people out there, of course – after the Indiana Pacers pushed the Heat to seven games in the conference finals, they seemed to have forgotten how the James Gang rolled to the best record in the NBA and how the Pacers, a young, deep and energetic team, simply presented one or two matchup challenges.
Stars overcome challenges. They will themselves to play well when such performances are needed. LeBron did just that against the Pacers, though his wasn’t quite a Jordan moment.
He might never have a Jordan moment, which will be all right. For as long as he piles up championships, what NBA fan cares? And he will add a second one to his trophy case by month’s end, so say the smart people like Carlsen.
Even those of ordinary intellect and sports insight – people like me – won’t argue to the contrary. All we can hope is to see the man who is in the conversation as the “greatest ever” produce a performance that is worthy of such high-minded praise.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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