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Frustration brings out LeBron’s passion

by Sam Smith

And we thought the Chicago Bulls last Wednesday breaking the Miami Heat’s 27-game winning streak, the second longest in NBA history, was the big news.

Sort of, but not completely as LeBron James seemed to transcend it all, which may also tell you how big James has become. He is the face of the NBA, like him or not.

So, yes, the Heat had been hot, first James breaking some sort of odd statistical mark with six straight games averaging more than 30 points while shooting at least 60 percent and presumably also wearing yellow socks. That’s why I knew computers were a mistake. But I digress.

So the Bulls without Derrick Rose — though before the game rapper Waka Flocka Flame posted on Twitter “Word is D. Rose back” — play pretty much a perfect game for them and hang on against a last Miami rush and defeat the Heat despite 32 points from James.

Much of the media, though, did miss a lot of it trying to learn who was Waka Flocka Flame and whether it was rapid oxidation or a new dance.

So Miami missed its chance to take a bite out of regular-season history, though the real story it seemed started right afterward when James was asked about a couple of hard fouls, one by Kirk Hinrich when he tried to bear hug James to stop and both fell.

And later when James was sandwiched and hit by Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler as the Bulls were determined, at least, to perform the old playoffs “no layups” rule. The NBA agreed the next day with the officials neither was flagrant, though they Friday ruled a first-quarter foul by Gibson on James should have been a Flagrant 1.

Gibson said he couldn’t even remember which one that was after several days of James’ complaining.

Anyway, James went off after the game, though more conversationally, I thought, about how he is mistreated by officials — I’m snickering now as I write this, though you can’t see me — and has to endure all these unfair, hard fouls that get others sent to the free throw line.

This, of course, is the player who shoots the most free throws compared to the number of fouls called against him, has had 16 games this season with zero fouls and six straight.

Really, is that possible for a player regarded among the best defenders in the NBA?

Answer with me: No!

Anyway, this then set off some old Celtics/Lakers fun with Danny Ainge, the former Celtics player and now general manager saying James should be embarrassed for complaining and the reclusive Riley, the former Lakers coach and player on that 33-win team, releasing a statement, of all things, telling Ainge to “shut the f—- up.”

You can do that in a statement through the team?

This really has become a virtual world. Though it might be a safer world if people exchanged obscenities by mail.

This led to a debate about supposed goon tactics by the Bulls and this being the way to defeat Miami, to rough up James, who, by the way, is the size of Karl Malone.

So good luck with that. You do have to play Miami physically and rough, though they give their share back.

Flagrant fouls?

Goon tactics?

LeBron roughed up and a return to the Bad Boys?

Nonsense, and LeBron knows it.

But good for LeBron that he said what he did. Not because he was right or accurate, which he wasn’t. The Bulls, who are tough but hardly dirty and with very few players even the size of James, are just a good, hard working team.

But it showed how much James cares. And when the best player in the league cares that much you not only have a great player to watch and appreciate, but a great league.

The game is about passion, and as much as James likes to play it down, his comments after the game showed how much it matters.

He really wanted that streak; he really wanted that record. He often tries to play it cool, but he likes it hot. Even when he’s not in tropical Miami.

Though Miami lost that game, it was yet another testament to James’ greatness. Dwyane Wade was doing little. Chris Bosh was being pushed so far away from the basket he was halfway back to the team hotel.

Miami looked like a team where you wondered whether this was the team that had won 27 in a row.

Could the NBA be this bad?

But this was how good James was, carrying the team and dragging them just short of the finish line in the end.

He wanted that Lakers’ record. Not to preen. But he pushes to be the best.

He defers publicly to the greats of all time, unlike Kobe Bryant, who openly talks about winning more titles than Michael Jordan. James doesn’t, but he wants it no less.

He’s got one title on the way to another, and he wants more, the Lakers’ record, whatever he can get. It’s the business card of all the great ones.

So the streak was broken just six away, so close now that James believed they would do it. And the frustration and dejection was just too much, and he did what any normal person would do, even if you are not 203 cm and 113 kg and the fastest guy on the floor. He lashed out.

It just happened to be at the question about the fouls. If you watch the Hinrich one carefully, it was clear James ran him over and Hinrich’s head smashed into the floor. Hinrich probably had a concussion as his next few shots barely hit the backboard.

But given the NBA won’t let you play a few games now if you report one, Hinrich didn’t.

Gibson and Butler just came together as James barreled through. Gibson even tried to help up James.

It was about the streak and the game and the win. Miami didn’t get them, and LeBron was furious.

Don’t you love that in your stars?

Don’t you wish they all cared that much?

Good for LeBron.

Sam Smith covered the Chicago Bulls for 25 years with the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of the best-selling book “The Jordan Rules.”