I can’t remember there ever being so much attention paid to an elbow.

You know which one I’m talking about. LeBron James’ elbow. The elbow that has dominated discussion on sports talk radio. The elbow that has been covered extensively in newspapers around the country, and on websites and blogs. The elbow that currently has its own Twitter handle with more than 6,300 followers.

When LeBron shot a free throw with his left hand a week ago against the Chicago Bulls, the NBA, the city of Cleveland, his teammates and coaching staff, and NBA fans all collectively held their breath. That free throw hammered home the realization that King James may actually be hurt.

James told Cleveland fans not to worry. But on Monday, when the Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics at home, and with it home court advantage, real concern has start to set in.

Most of the season, the collective public had penciled in a Cavaliers vs. Los Angeles Lakers Final. And more importantly, LeBron vs. Kobe Bryant.

Granted, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played. The San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns certainly have something to say about the Lakers making the Finals in the West, and the Orlando Magic is arguably the deepest team in the East. But most thought that Cavaliers vs. Lakers was the most likely scenario.

James’ elbow puts that scenario in serious doubt. In Game 2 against Boston, James looked tentative, and didn’t have the same runaway-train like explosion that we’re used to seeing. Thursday, his elbow felt a little better, but he’s acknowledged that it will be problematic the rest of the playoffs.

If James doesn’t make it to the Finals, it’ll be a disaster for the NBA. The star power alone of LeBron versus Kobe will bring much-needed eyes to the league. When the NFL hosted the first round of its Draft on April 22, the ratings were better than the NBA playoff ratings, showing where fans’ loyalties lie. Stern doesn’t want LeBron to make the Finals… he needs him too.

The city of Cleveland does too. This summer will be the most hyped free agent class in recent memory with guys like LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh all being available.

The million-dollar question is will LeBron stay or go? If the Cavaliers win the title, there are some that say it would be okay for him to leave since he brought Cleveland a championship.

Others think a Cavaliers championship will make him inclined to stay, since he would’ve revitalized Cleveland and will mean more to that city than arguably any athlete ever.

If LeBron’s elbow doesn’t heal, we’ll never know. With LeBron banged up, the Cavaliers will have a tough time getting past Boston. If they do advance, they won’t get past a Magic team that hasn’t even lost a playoff game yet, which means we’ll see the Magic in a Finals rematch against the Lakers (which no one is really rooting to see).

If that scenario plays out, LeBron would know for sure that he probably won’t get a ring in Cleveland. If his team needs him to be in perfect health for them to make the Finals, I think King James will realize he needs help that Cleveland can’t provide. LeBron leaving would essentially kill basketball in Cleveland.

Finally, and most importantly, if LeBron’s elbow doesn’t heal, it hurts the fans. Nothing against the Magic, or even Boston; they’re great teams. But fans want to see LeBron in the Finals.

LeBron was named MVP for the second straight year on Sunday. He’s been in the league for seven years. We’re quick to compare LeBron to Michael Jordan and this is the best year to compare. Jordan won his first of six championships in his seventh year. That same year, he won his second MVP award.

Kobe is getting older, and more and more people are crowning King James as the best player in the world. But he still hasn’t won the big one. If we get the dream scenario of Cavaliers versus Lakers, it’ll almost be a “passing of the torch” series. Kobe’s got the torch, but if LeBron can carry his team to the championship, he will be the unquestioned best in the game.

LeBron’s elbow is robbing us of getting to see that. If it doesn’t heal, NBA fans will be left with “what if” questions, Cleveland will be devastated and heart-broken, and the NBA will surely miss out on one of the highest-rated and most lucrative Finals matchups ever.

Who would’ve thought an elbow could mean so much?