The NBA has changed greatly over the years. For that, LeBron James can be grateful.
James shot the Celtics bench daggers throughout the Cavaliers' 107-76 nationally televised beatdown on the defending world champions.
That was a whole lot of glaring and showboating as James was dunking, swatting shots and drilling 3-pointers at will against a wounded and defenseless Boston club that didn't show up to play yesterday afternoon in Cleveland.
In a little over 30 minutes, he scored 29 points, dished out seven assists and left a bunch of seething Celtics in his wake.
In the old days, such showboating might get him clotheslined by Kevin McHale, upended by M.L. Carr, shoved to the floor by Cedric Maxwell, elbowed by Bob Brannum or KO'd by Jim Loscutoff.
But in the modern era, a little flash and dash is accepted, even encouraged.
The operative words being "a little."
James has been having a good time for himself this whole season as the high-flying Cavs are one win away from tying Boston's mark for the best-ever home record (40-1) and boast a gaudy 65-15 record.
James' pregame choreography would make the director of Cirque du Soleil blush. He pretends to be a photographer while his teammates do various outrageous poses.
If you are a Cavs fan, you howl with delight. If you are a rival, you plot how you can cut the suddenly-too-full-of-himself James down to size.
There is no question, James can back it up.
And then some.
He's 24-years-old and is arguably side by side with Tiger Woods as the transcendent sports icons in the world.
But, still, he's never won the big one in his five-plus seasons in the NBA and he's mocking the world champion Celtics? When Kevin Garnett isn't even suited up?
That's a little much, even if the C's have some guys who are world-class trash talkers, too.
His colleagues on basketball's current Mount Rushmore, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, the Heat's Dwyane Wade and the Spurs' Tim Duncan, don't feel the need to play to the cameras and the fans.
You can almost put up with James, who, to be fair, until recently hasn't resorted to the silly attention-grabbing stuff. But the LeBronettes are a different story entirely.
It's one thing for the Baddest Man on the Planet to flex his muscles (as the muscle-bound James likes to do literally and figuratively), but when it's the pipsqueak younger brother hiding behind him talking trash, it's tough to swallow.
Mo Williams and old friend Delonte West were dancing and mugging for the cameras to the delight of the 20,562 partisans at Quicken Loans Arena.
Then there is Anderson Varejao, he of the Sideshow Bob dreads, sharp elbows, and incessant flops. Mild-mannered Ray Allen finally had his fill of Varejao, the poor man's Bill Laimbeer.
He flung Allen to the floor and Allen responded with a wicked elbow to the groin, throwing further fuel on the fire for this suddenly white-hot rivalry.
LeBron had his chance last spring when the grizzled Celtics beat the young Cavs in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
LeBron was immense in Game 7 with 45 points, but he did lose. And in the first six games, he was a pedestrian-at-best 41 of 126 from the floor (.325) with 35 turnovers.
The Celtics are talented, proven and proud. But they are also aging and banged up. If Garnett isn't close to 100 percent, the C's might be ousted far before they get a shot at LeBron.
If they do meet up in the East finals, James had better finish off the Green. If not, he'll rue the day he showed the Celtics up in a meaningless regular-season game.
If he does get to the finals, the unthinkable will happen — Celtic Nation will be rooting for the Lakers.
Michael Muldoon is sports editor for The Eagle-Tribune. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Final score: Cleveland 107, Boston 76
Studs: LeBron James 29 points in 30 minutes
Duds: Paul Pierce 4 of 17 shooting, Ray Allen 6 points
Over early: Cleveland led 31-9 after a quarter
Garnett watch: KG sat out his 20th game in the last 24 outings. He's scheduled to practice tomorrow.
They Said It I: "It was a dirty play. ... They're not going to walk all over us.'' Ray Allen on Anderson Varejao
They Said It II: "You don't hit a man in his [groin]. He doesn't like Brazilians or he doesn't like my hair." Varejao on Allen