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LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Cavaliers

LeBron James, the Drake Equation and Fermi’s Paradox

In a suddenly half empty Air Canada Centre, LeBron James stood on the court with a towel draped over his shoulders, explaining the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 128-110 victory over the Toronto Raptors in Game 2.

The crowd—at least, what remained of it—was stunned into silence.

Toronto, as our own James Holas explained, spent an entire year resetting its culture in anticipation of LeBron James. With 43 points and 14 assists in Game 2, LeBron isn’t just beating the Raptors, he’s decimating them on a cosmic scale.

These Raptors entered this series after two sound wins over the Washington Wizards. Toronto’s defense, now capable of switching across multiple positions, was supposed to narrow James’ options. The Raptors’ offense, now predicated on movement and multiple attack angles, was supposed to be diverse enough to exploit the plethora of vulnerabilities in the Cavs’ defense.

Instead, Toronto finds itself down 0-2 in a series heading to Cleveland.

Questions will inevitably invade the Raptors’ psyche. These are the times that test a team’s resolve. Can they continue to trust each other? Has an entire season’s worth of work been for naught? These are questions Toronto cannot afford, considering it must contend with the biggest question of all: what to do with LeBron James?

In the words of Thanos, from Marvel’s Infinity War:

“In time, you will know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right. Yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.”

The league has never had more talent, data, or quality coaching. A LeBron-led team had never been so vulnerable. And these Raptors had never been better. Which begs the question, if there were a challenger to LeBron James in the Eastern Conference, wouldn’t it be here by now?

LeBron James the Fermi Paradox

In the early 1900s, an Italian physicist named Enrico Fermi contemplated the existence of extraterrestrial life with colleagues over lunch. From that, Fermi’s Paradox was born.

Fermi’s Paradox is “the apparent contradiction between the high probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of contact with such civilizations.”

It postulates the universe is so big, and our Earth so average, the cosmos must be teeming with life. Given the relative youth of our own planet, interstellar travel or communication—if possible—should have made its way to Earth right now.

The odds of life are predicted in the Drake Equation, which is not to be confused with the secret sauce to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus:

N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L

There are a number of theories to explain away the paradox. Perhaps we’re alone in the universe. Or, maybe our planet was visited by extraterrestrial life but before recorded history. Of course, a likely scenario is the Great Filter, which theorizes life ultimately reaches a wall where it becomes impossible to evolve any further.

In truth, the answer to the Fermi Paradox is any time a civilization (i.e., the Raptors) advances enough to make noise, LeBron James simply kills it.

LeBron James and the Great Filter

Among the teams supposed to challenge LeBron James, the Chicago Bulls burned themselves out trying to advance too far too soon, giving way to a number of wear and tear injuries.

The best iteration of the Indiana Pacers was setback years when LeBron James solved for their brute strength. Miami unlocking the full extent of its position-less, pace and space basketball created a chain reaction throughout the league. As teams adjusted schemes and personnel to compensate, the front court pairing of Roy Hibbert and David West were quickly rendered obsolete.

LeBron James has been in the NBA for 15 seasons and has destroyed twice as many enemies as that. And every one of them would have rather beat him than not succeeded. These Raptors are only the latest of a long line of teams to feel his vengeance. (To paraphrase the God of Thunder).

Here’s how LeBron James destroyed the Raptors:

6. Power

LeBron James, Cavaliers

Original Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The first layer of LeBron’s dominance comes in the form of his sheer power. At 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds of pure athletic muscle, James is simply too strong for most to deal with once he gains any momentum.

Toronto’s defensive renaissance came, in part, from the addition of rookie OG Anunoby and the development of Paskal Siakam, who provide the Raptors with great length and defensive versatility.

Both have the length and speed to deal with LeBron. They simply lack the power to handle him one-on-one.

It’s not pure speed that creates pull to the rim, but a combination of a first step and strength. The moment LeBron James edges his shoulder past an opponent, the battle is over; he simply generates too much force for an opponent to wedge his way back into the action.

Teams must pre-rotate to James before he can built momentum or risk being shoved through the rim like the Pacers:

This also works for LeBron in the post, where he can back down defenders to get to his spot in perfect balance and fade before the defense can help.

His ability to hold his position with impunity allows the Cavaliers to dissect teams in unique ways, setting the stage for James’ next talent.

5. Space

LeBron James, Cavaliers

Original Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The quickest way to build an elite offense is to surround LeBron James with four shooters.

Cleveland finished the regular season with the fifth-best offensive rating, scoring 110.6 points per 100 possessions. Against the Raptors in Game 2, the Cavaliers’ offense was turbocharged when George Hill, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, and Kevin Love shared the court, posting an offensive rating of 139.9 and outscoring the Raptors by nine in 21.5 minutes.

The lineup hit five three-pointers in 10 attempts, assisting on 14 of its 27 made field goals. Their ability to space the floor stretches defense beyond their capacity to snap back into place.

Defenses work from the inside out, protecting the rim and snuffing out fires away from the paint as they arise. The Cavaliers force defenses to trail over screens, almost to the point of inviting invitations into the lane for fear of letting Kyle Korver loose from deep.

LeBron James’ gravity tilts the floor towards him at all times, firing off passes the moment a defender takes one step beyond his scheme’s structural integrity. From there, ball and bodies swarm, moving into empty spaces on the floor until an easy shot is given:

Inseparable from space is time and LeBron has long shown the ability to bend both to his whim.

4. Time

LeBron James, Cavalirs

Original Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James wields time in a multitude of ways. With a defense loaded towards him, he has constant clock in his head.

A defender is only allowed three seconds in the paint without an assignment before he must vacate it and James has long mastered the ability to attack between the changing of these shifts.

Or erase mistakes from existence.

But even this is only a parlor trick.

When unencumbered—and the Raptor have yet to show the ability to do so—LeBron James is capable of surveying the floor, reading an action’s beginning and projecting its end, finding the one moment a defense is at its most vulnerable.

3. Mind

LeBron James, Cavaliers

Original Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

No one in the NBA both reads and manipulates entire defenses quite like LeBron James does. He knows an opponents’ schemes and tendencies, using them to turn a defense’s own instincts against itself.

Here, James holds the ball while reading Jonas Valanciunas’ steps against Kevin Love. The moment the Raptors’ center takes one step towards the screen, it’s a simple backdoor pass:

Off the ball, he can read vulnerabilities in a defense, cutting at the most opportune time:

2. Reality

LeBron James, Cavaliers

Original Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

With every move LeBron James makes, countless realities enter the minds of a defense, leaving a defender grasping for straws at which is the proper one.

In Game 1, a simple pause sent Jonas Valanciunas running towards Jeff Green in a pick and pop, chasing a pass that never came:

During a transition opportunity in Game 2, LeBron James left his feet with the ball and the myriad of possibilities swirling around Kyle Lowry froze him in his feet, leaving George Hill with a wide open layup.

Of course, this ability extends beyond the basketball court as LeBron James has the ability to remake entire cities in his image:

1. Soul

LeBron James, Cavaliers

Original Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t so much an ability. LeBron James simply destroys souls, as he did with the Raptors, hitting one fadeaway…

After another…

Until there’s nothing left.