Coast to Coast is my bi-weekly column here at Fansided. Each week I’ll be taking a look at an interesting topic in the NBA, and giving my own spin on it. Feel free to disagree, because you most likely will anyways.
Where were you on October 30th, 2003? I was sitting on my couch with the television on watching an 18 year old kid lace up his big boy shoes for the first time in the NBA. I can remember a certain buzz surrounding this kid from Akron, Ohio that mirrored the buzz around another 18 year old kid from Philly in 1996. I can remember the famous words Jay Bilas spoke at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s high school in Ohio. He said that watching LeBron James play a high school game exceeded what he saw from a young Kobe Bryant. When he was drafted by his hometown Cavaliers, all I heard about was his debut, and that this would be a moment that we would remember forever.
LeBron Raymone James took the floor in Sacramento, and he hasn’t looked back since.
LeBron was given a legacy to live out, and everyone had expectations for what he would become. He was supposed to be the next Michael Jordan, he was supposed to take the torch from Kobe Bryant’s hands, and he was going to take the title-starved city of Cleveland, Ohio to the promised land. He was supposed to be a killer like Jordan and Bryant, and anything less would be a disappointment. When LeBron came into the league that night, he looked different. He didn’t look like the kind of guy who would have an issue with other players like Kobe did, and he certainly didn’t look like the guy who would punch Steve Kerr during practice. In high school, he was all about his teammates, and he would make sure that they would ride this magical journey through NBA greatness with him. He seemed more like Magic Johnson than he did Michael Jordan. James finished with 25 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals. He certainly didn’t disappoint. Although he had a great performance, the Cavs lost their first game with James. He didn’t say that it wasn’t his fault, he didn’t blame the team, but James foreshadowed when he talked to the media that night. “I could have helped my team a little bit down the stretch, I could have been a little more aggressive to help us win,” James stated.
LeBron would play 7 seasons for the Cavaliers, and he re branded that franchise. The Cavs were on national television every week, and when they came on, it was must see TV. He reached his first Finals in 2007 against the Spurs. The Cavs had no business being in that series, but LeBron didn’t get the memo. He took a roster that saw Damon Jones play over 1100 minutes, and elevated them to new heights. They ran into a Spurs team that was far superior, and questions started to arise. LeBron James was in the league for a few years now, and he wasn’t going 82-0 every season, and he wasn’t wearing multiple rings. Was he a bust?
I used to be really hard on LeBron. I was born in LA, and my family and I were huge Laker fans. Kobe Bryant was starting to rebuild his image, and it seems as if that torch was going to stay in his hands for a few more years. When talking to people about LeBron, I used to compare rings, criticize his jump shot, and would make sure people knew how good Bryant was. The NBA ate this up, as they were all in on a budding rivalry between the game’s best two players. I now realize how stupid I really was, but I wasn’t alone.
LeBron started a new trend. He started making a spectacle of simple things like the pregame powder rituals, and dancing on the sideline before games. He was more about having fun and making sure his teammates were happy, than taking 26 shots a game and having a killer’s mentality. We didn’t like that. It was fantastic when Magic Johnson smiled and made his teammates better, but LeBron wasn’t supposed to be Magic Johnson–he was supposed to be the next Jordan. LeBron James is arguably the greatest athlete of all time, and his skill set was unprecedented. A guy who was built like an NFL linebacker shouldn’t be able to handle the ball and jump through the air like he did. He made the game look so easy, that anytime he didn’t shoot 100%, we crushed him.
Enter 2010. LeBron James walked off the court at the end of a playoff game against the Boston Celtics and ripped off his number 23 Cavaliers jersey. He was a free agent starting then. After 7 seasons in the league, LeBron James hadn’t lived up to the enormous expectations that were placed on him. The next Jordan? Ha. He wasn’t even close to Jordan–right? Wrong. LeBron played with terrible rosters, a coach who had issues running an offense, and was put in a corner. I’ll tell you this, I would love to be LeBron James, but on July 1st, 2010, I wanted no part of his life. He was looking at the reality of leaving his hometown team that loved him, and was facing a decision that would forever change the way we looked at one of the best players in NBA history. On July 8th, 2010, LeBron James wasted an hour of everyone’s time to tell the world that he was taking his talents to South Beach.
LeBron crushed the city of Cleveland, and he started to gain a lot of hate from people around the country. Well, he just surrendered any chance of being the next Jordan or Kobe. You can’t be one of the greatest of all time and leave your team in your prime. But wait! You have to win 6 championships, too. Because of that pressure, James donned a 6 jersey in South Beach, and his legacy would take a new turn.
He finally had the teammates that could give him some help, and a coach that was willing to surround him with a good system that fit him well. He had an elite big in Chris Bosh, a player who could help attract attention from the defense in Dwyane Wade, and a myriad of shooters that would give him space. James put himself in a corner though, as he embraced the hate, and became a villain. James is a guy who loves to be liked, and giving the fans a show is his goal. He isn’t a guy who likes to be booed or hated, and it took a toll on him. Sure, he had a great season, but he wasn’t himself in the Finals, and they lost to the Mavericks in 6 games. Now, James was 0-2 in the Finals, and he wasn’t clutch like the guys he was often compared too. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was supposed to be the next big thing.
James would regain his likeability during his second year in Miami. The Heat would return to the Finals, and the king finally got his ring. It took him almost a decade, but in 2012–9 years after he was drafted by his hometown team–he was finally vindicated.
I could throw you stats about how LeBron isn’t good outside the paint, or I could throw you stats about how great he is in terms of history, but that would be a waste of time. Right now, we have the opportunity to watch greatness. As I was driving around for the last two days, I heard everyone’s opinion about the Jonathon Martin situation in Miami. A guy was a victim to harassment and racism, but somehow we can’t fully blame Richie Incognito. We want to point fingers at the fact that Joe Philbin didn’t have a pulse on the locker room, and that no one else put a stop to this. Bottom line–Richie Incognito sent text messages and voice mails that should be tried as hate crimes, and the passing around of blame is a bunch of crap. We never give credit to teams, but we over analyze everything in society, and we look at things from 3000 different angles. Bottom line–we are watching one of the greatest athletes ever play the game of basketball at a level that is so rare, that we have to compartmentalize it.
Sure, James has his flaws, and he puts a lot of pressure on himself, but we are to blame for most of this criticism. James couldn’t have possibly lived up to the expectations that were put on him, and he’s done a darn good job for the last 10 years. He will probably end up in the top 5 in points and assists, and his defensive skills are some of the best in the league. The fact that there is even a debate on if this guy is a top ten player all time. We are not recognizing greatness before our eyes.
James hasn’t done himself a lot of favors. He has a tattoo that says “Chosen 1″ on his back. He proclaimed that the Heat are going to win 8 championships, and he can come off as arrogant at times. The fact of the matter is, we need to stop wearing our Jordan colored glasses, and realize that Michael Jordan had flaws too. One of my old teachers in Sunday School once told me that if you compare yourself or compare others to somebody else, nobody wins. When we compare LeBron James to anyone else, nobody wins. We are watching one of the greatest to play this game, but we want to tell you what he’s doing wrong. Through 10 years, LeBron James has over 21,00 points, over 5300 assists, over 5500 rebounds, over 1300 steals, 4 MVP’s, 2 championships, 2 Finals MVP’s, and 2 gold medals. I’d say he’s doing okay. Through ten years, we have seen one of the greatest players in NBA history entertain us with amazing talent and skill. It’s time we start appreciating it.