CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The idea of “superstar calls” exist. Otherwise known as “Jordan calls,” high-profile players generally are officiated differently than those lesser known.
That corollary seems to be an inverse for a different demographic within the sport, stronger players who are able to play through contact.
LeBron James is different than the typical players who face this sort of discrimination, the notable cases being behemoths like Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal. Unlike most guards and small forwards who try to draw light contact and get to the line, James normally blows through it.
Prior to being ejected Tuesday night, the first early dismissal of his 15-year career, James was knocked around all the way up the floor, he claimed. It ended with James being knocked back by the Heat’s James Johnson, then sprinting towards referee Kane Fitzgerald, who decided to become a trivia question.
The proof was on the stat sheet for James. When ejected, LeBron had attempted 16 field goals, but one free throw that came on the opening possession of the game, an and-one.
“I think I’m one of the league leaders in points in the paint,” James contested. “I drive as much as anybody. At this point, it’s almost like they’re trying to turn me into a jump-shooter. I can’t be a jump-shooter, I’m not a jump-shooter. Every night, I see jump-shooters going to the line multiple, double-digit times a night. I’m not a jump-shooter, and I get fouled just like everybody else do.”
James is indeed second in the league in points in the paint at 14.8 a night, behind Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo at 18.9. Antetokounmpo, who currently sits second in points per game (29.5) behind Houston’s James Harden (31.7), trails only Harden in free throw attempts per night at 8.5 to 9.3.
Somehow James, within 3.5 points and 2.0 field goal attempts per night from both Harden and Antekounmpo, sits 14th in the league with 5.6 free throw attempts.
The discrepancy between Antetokounmpo and LeBron is almost three full free throws a game, yet the Greek Freak drives to the basket a mere .2 more times on average. The former racked up 13 free throw attempts through three quarters alone on Tuesday.
So why the discrepancy in the calls? Despite his clout still being exponentially higher than Antetokounmpo’s rising star, LeBron’s physique makes him look superhuman. James outweighs the 6-foot-11 22-year-old by almost 30 lbs.
Even Howard and his massive shoulders shot double-digit free throws per game for five years straight in Orlando. Though many of those attempts came by way of light, intentional fouls, Howard wound up having back surgery as a result from the beatings he took.
All things considered, James probably deserved his first career ejection. Just as teams have long gotten away with beating on his seemingly indestructible frame, the King has long gotten away with demonstrative showings towards any slight from a referee, warranted or not.
James errored on Tuesday when swinging a closed fist in Fitzgerald’s direction, albeit from about 30 feet away, before charging towards the veteran official. Fitzgerald did not even give James a double-technical, as originally thought, because James gave him a reason to do so.
Cavaliers Head Coach, Tyronn Lue did not even defend his star post-game.
“The referee did – ‘get him out.’ He got thrown out,” Lue laughed. “Do you want me to go against the ref?”
The humorous tone was only applicable because the situation provided both an unquestionable and optimal time for James to complain. He had taken the brunt of fouls all night, and the Cavs happened to already have the game in hand in the 3rd quarter.
James has reason to be upset, and the numbers prove it. Maybe his lashing out will grab the attention of somebody who can leverage things in the King’s favor, but that probably won’t happen.
LeBron having so much in his favor already is what causes this to begin with.