It begins so unsuspectingly with the makings of an open court layup. But while that dribbler has his eyes on the rim, his previously assumed uncontested layup gets swatted off the glass from behind by a defender. This move is arguably the most exciting type of blocked shot available to the viewer because it manages to combine the excitement of an outlet pass so perfectly tossed that it leaves the basket wide open, but compounding that scenario with a defender that is racing back in pure desperation, makes for either an exciting block, or a flailing rocket of arms and legs right into the crowd.
Until the 2008-2009 season, successful attempts at blocking a fast break layup from behind were few and far between. Some people remember the image of Tayshaun Prince successfully chasing down Reggie Miller in game 4 the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. But that play was only possible because Tayshaun is built with arms hanging down to his ankles. It’s very hard to chase down a dribbler while also maintaining any sense of trajectory on where the ball is headed.
Fortunately for Lebron James, he is ambidextrous, usually faster than his opponent, and can certainly jump higher, so he stays balanced while beating the dribbler towards the rim. Mr. James showed promise at this move a year ago, but this season has become an absolute hawk. The Cavs’ increased pace from last season has inevitably lead to a reciprocation of fast break attempts, but Lebron is smart enough to see the break develop, and quick enough to block several shots from behind each game.
The propensity of Lebron’s hands getting to the rim before his opponents’ has helped add another layer to the Cavaliers. Their defense has received some aggressive tweaks and twists from head coach Mike Brown in order to take advantage of Cleveland’s desire to push the ball more. But Lebron’s ability to hunt players down in the open court is a perfect complement to his aggressive offensive style, and makes him considerably more dynamic as a player. It’s also arguable that Lebron is already the greatest ever at this move. Michael Jordan was certainly a predator on defense, but he feeded more on his opponents ballhandling skills in order to force steals. And Bill Russell was certainly a better shotblocker in the half court, but he never possessed Lebron’s speed and leaping ability needed to hunt down speedy guards.
It’s imaginable that ten more seasons of Lebron protecting the rim from half court will result in “The Lebron Block” being standard nomenclature. But sports writers are sometimes slow to accept a term until it takes place in a climactic enough scenario, such as an NBA Finals game, or several NBA Finals games. And maybe that is deserving. If Lebron is truly the greatest fast break shot blocker ever, the opportunity for him to prove how far he has come on defense will eventually present itself.