Learning to Appreciate Greatness: LeBron James

Posted: June 4, 2012 in Basketball
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When I was younger, I discounted the basketball ability of superstar players on other teams. As I got older and more limited while playing pickup games, I learned to appreciate the ability of players like Dirk Nowitski, Karl Malone and Tim Duncan. All have a history with my favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers, and until I got older I couldn’t see past my allegiances. Dirk beat my Lakers last year and went on to win a championship, thus earning my respect. Karl Malone joined the purple and gold for a year and a half, before falling to injury in the Finals. (Might have had a chance if he was 100 percent. Still won’t let it go.) I didn’t appreciate what The Mailman could do until he was on my favorite team. And Tim Duncan’s playoff performances this year have been off the charts. I didn’t appreciate him until I got older either.

When you’re a young ball player and fan, you respect dunks and flash. If it made ESPN’s Sports Center, it mattered. While I appreciate a nasty dunk (preferably on somebody popular)  like the next man, I have learned to appreciate excellence in the sport. Not only athletic excellence, but the X’s and O’s. Setting screens, boxing out and hitting a cutting teammate in stride for a layup, hold equal value to my basketball mind. Largely due to my declining athletic skill while playing pickup basketball, this new found appreciation for the technical part of the game came to me over time. When I was younger, I could run games for eight to ten hours, often times back-to-back. I would watch players and try to recreate their moves on the black top. I jumped and contorted into a pretzel and scooped shots over my head. I shot way beyond my jump shot range and tried to block shots I knew I had no way of reaching. Well, old legs brings new found responsibility. Now older, I found I had a limited amount of jumping, shooting and running per outing. Limitations make you refine existing talents.

Much like a blind man developing a keen sense of hearing, I found success with a pull up jump shot and a optional hook or fade away jump shot over my right shoulder. But I digress. My point is I don’t like hype and players that get hype I habitually discard or patiently wait for them to fail. I called Tim Duncan “Paper Tim” after seeing Marcus Camby manhandle him in a college matchup pitting Wake Forest against UMass. He’s the only guy I’ve ever predicted to be a bust and he became a superstar, multiple ring holder.

LeBron was hyped more than anyone in basketball history. He got a fat Nike contract and had high school games televised on ESPN. The Chosen One was the first pick and averaged 25 ppg 7 and 7 his rookie year. I argued Carmelo Anthony, who also posted a 20+ point rookie season and led his team to the playoffs, deserved co-Rookie of the Year alongside James. In hindsight, that would have been a mistake. LEBRON JAMES WILL BE THE GREATEST PLAYER EVER. I did not say the best winner ever. He will not win as many championships as Michael Jordan. He will not be considered the BEST EVER. But he will break records. He will win at least one championship, if not more. And, he will do it all while getting his own shot, shutting down the opposing team’s high scorer and making teammates better by getting them the ball. He can literally do everything on the court RIGHT NOW. All of the basketball greats (Bird, Magic, Jordan) have said LeBron, not Kobe, will be the greatest player to ever play based on his skill set. However, all disagreed publicly about “The Decision” to leave Cleveland for Miami.

“You know, Kobe [Bryant] was always my favorite since I got out,” Bird told ESPN’s Bill Simmons recently. “But LeBron James is by far our best player in this league. I don’t really think there’s anyone next to him. I think he’s there, and then you go down the list.”

His jumper is a little unreliable. He avoids the ball in the 4th quarter. He misspeaks during interviews. He made “The Decision” and hurt Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s and the national media’s feelings. Basketball purists lost respect for him even though he went to the Finals ala Allen Iverson, just him and four picks. He drew more hate when he promised multiple championship rings to the city of Miami. He, along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh rose through the floor in a plume of smoke and flashing lights like a SuperBowl Halftime show. He’s been accused of not having “the clutch gene”, “killer instinct” and for his inability to hit game winning buzzer beaters in crunch time.

He finished the season with 27.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg and almost 2 steals per contest. He’s been in the league nine years. He has two Finals appearances and three MVP trophies. RIGHT NOW, he’s averaging 29.9 ppg, 8.9 reb and 5.5 assists. The media is calling for this guy’s head. Why? Because he didn’t tell anyone where he what team he was going to play for during his free agency. The media looks for holes even when there really aren’t many. If he had a 50 point game with 20 assists, LeBron would draw comparisons to Jordan and come out on the short end, because he doesn’t have one, let alone six championship rings. He had 40 points and 18 rebounds against Indiana and it was largely overlooked by mainstream media. SURPRISED? Hate him as a fan, understandable. Hate him as a man, understandable. But hate him based on ability, you are being biased by the aforementioned two reasons. There will never be another MICHAEL JORDAN. That’s the media’s trump card. No one wins that debate. Kobe is arguably the closest to rivaling Jordan’s legacy, holding five championship rings. But if he ends without a sixth title, talking heads will crucify him for being less than. Don’t fall for the misinformation. You don’t have to hit buzzer beaters to be great. Magic only hit a few of those in crucial Playoff wins. His five rings make up for it. The ring for LeBron will silence some people. But the Jordan comparison will always trump any basketball achievement. What if Magic was compared to Jordan? Would he be as beloved? He only won five championships. Basketball fans need closure about this. It’s like a break up. You start remembering all those moments as a fan with Jordan winning and become nostalgic. JORDAN IS IN A SUIT. He doesn’t suit up.  JORDAN DOES HANES COMMERCIALS. He owns the worst team in basketball. I know you remember “The Shrug”, “The Shot” over Ehlo and “The Last Shot” over Russell. I know you remember the battles with the Pistons and Knicks. The Dunk Over Patrick Ewing was classic. I GET IT BRO. My advice is to get over it and get on with your sports life. LEBRON JAMES is the BEST PLAYER in the game RIGHT NOW. And half of ya’ll are missing it, because you’re listening to what the media says and wants you to believe.

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