Walk into Charlotte’s practice Friday afternoon. There’s rookie Cody Zeller beneath a basket and – oh, no – Josh McRoberts stands next to him.
Watch out Cody! Run! Run while you still can!
McRoberts, formerly a slick passing, outside shooting power forward, has been demoted. In south Florida, and a lot of other places, he is now evil.
With 50 seconds left in game 2 of the Miami-Charlotte series Wednesday, LeBron James used a pick and was basket-bound. LeBron weighs 250 pounds and all of them were flying. Josh McRoberts, who at 6-foot-10 is 2 inches taller than LeBron but weighs 10 fewer pounds, joined him in the air.
As LeBron approached the hoop, officials saw contact.
If you’re a Heat fan, McRoberts attacked LeBron with his forearm.
If you’re a Bobcats’ fan, LeBron attacked McRoberts with his throat.
A foul was called, and on Thursday the foul was upgraded to Flagrant 2. McRoberts was fined $20,000. But he was not suspended.
He shouldn’t have been.
Look, to appreciate basketball is to appreciate LeBron. Nobody reasonable wants him hurt. The playoffs are supposed to be intense. They’re not supposed to be malicious.
If LeBron is injured, the postseason is downgraded from ‘Must See’ to ‘Should Consider Watching.’ If a team other than Miami wins the title, the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy comes with an asterisk. Sure you won. But you didn’t beat the best.
I’ve watched video of the McRoberts-LeBron encounter at least 20 times. I didn’t see a player deliberately try to injure another.
But some of you act as if McRoberts is a Bad Boy Detroit Piston who will fly to North Korea when his season ends.
“He didn’t try to hurt the man,” Charlotte guard Kemba Walker says. “I think he (McRoberts) tried to get a clean foul. If you’ve got LeBron coming full speed at you, you take the hit. You get hit.”
You know how many flagrant fouls the Bobcats were called for during the regular season?
They weren’t. They weren’t charged with one.
Jeff Adrien was, but only after Charlotte traded him to Milwaukee. See? Players don’t turn bad until they leave.
The Bobcats have had plenty of bad players. They don’t have a dirty one.
“It didn’t surprise me that (McRoberts) got fined,” says Charlotte forward Anthony Tolliver. “We’re in the playoffs and it was against LeBron and on national television and a lot of people made a big outcry about it. So it didn’t surprise me that he got fined. But I didn’t expect him to get suspended.”
After finishing rehab Friday, Big Al Jefferson sits on a stage, his left foot encased in a walking boot.
McRoberts ever knock you around in practice?
“No, no,” says the 289-pound Jefferson. “He doesn’t even guard me. He knows better.”
What does he think about McRoberts’ foul?
“I know he didn’t do it on purpose,” Jefferson says. “LeBron’s probably got 30, 35 pounds more than Josh. He had to protect himself. I just really believe that if it was as bad as everybody tries to make it seem, they would have thrown him out of the game right there.
Jefferson says that in Game 1LeBron “just grabbed his face like he got hit and they called a foul on me. Nobody was around him.”
Was LeBron acting?
“Yeah, he was acting and a ref called a foul on me,” says Jefferson. “I just think that that’s the respect he’s got. And he’s a hell of a player.”
McRoberts, who doesn’t do anything mean to Zeller, walks away from the rookie and is surrounded by more reporters than he’s been all season.
Go to YouTube and type McRoberts LeBron. The first video of their encounter received, at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 916,870 views. This is the most famous McRoberts has been.
He doesn’t seem to enjoy it.
How’d you find out about the fine?
“Saw it on TV like everybody else,” McRoberts says. “Obviously I don’t agree. But what can you do?”
He talks in multiple sentences when asked about confidence, adjustments, if the Bobcats have anything to build on. He says little when asked about the foul.
I ask when he committed his last flagrant before this one.
“I don’t know,” McRoberts says.
As he walks off, I ask what kind of feedback he received after the game. You know his cell phone was bombarded with messages from friends.
“I don’t have any friends,” McRoberts says, not quite smiling.
He has friends at Time Warner Cable Arena. He’ll get a huge hand from Charlotte fans Saturday. The body parts with which Miami greets him have yet to be determined.
Sorensen: 704-358-5119; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tomsorensen