Whether you like him or not, LeBron James is the best player in this era of the NBA. Fifty years from now when we flashback and discuss this time period in The Association, the title will be something like “The LeBron Years” or “When the King Ruled the Court”. Other players have won the MVP award while James cruises along at his peak, but every year over the last eight years there has been a general consensus that no one makes a bigger impact on a basketball court than he does.
LeBron can influence a basketball game like few others in the history of the league have been able to do. He can guard a power forward in the post and then switch onto a point guard with ease. He can step back and drill a three (except in these playoffs) and then on the next possession, rifle a left handed skip pass to an open shooter while he’s falling out of bounds. He blows up SportVU’s cameras on a regular basis with his ability to anticipate a pass on defense or by flying across the court to help when a shooter is open.
LeBron hit the genetic and mental lottery, but has he hit the perception lottery?
When you become one of the most popular athletes in the world, the criticism trolls flood out of the woods with their voices and electronic devices ready to go. It’s something that can’t be avoided in a world where everyone has a forum to share their opinion. For every positive point that has been made about James’ abilities, there have been many more negative ones shared across the world of television, radio, print and social media. It’s so much easier to hate than it is to give credit where credit is due.
But where is this hate coming from? It can’t just be Kobe fans kicking and screaming that their hero isn’t as multi dimensioned as LeBron is on the basketball court. It’s as if they feel so threatened by LeBron’s accomplishments and place in history compared to Kobe that they feel the need to overcompensate by burying James every step of the way.
It also can’t just be a horde of Michael Jordan defenders who feel the need to explain why Jordan will always be better than LeBron. Why do they feel the need to puff out their chests? Michael Jordan revolutionized the sport of basketball and shifted the trajectory of the NBA. His impact will be ingrained in the sport forever. It’s going to be nearly impossible for anyone to meet, let alone exceed Jordan’s impact and that includes LeBron.
So I ask again, where is this hate coming from? Is it possible that LeBron himself is making it easier for people to come away with a negative perception?
LeBron was given somewhat of a pass on the court for his attitude early on during the regular season. The homecoming narrative helped cover up the problems on the court for a bit, but LeBron got what he deserved, the chance to eventually show that the Cavs deserved to be the favorites in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs responded from their early season troubles by going 20-7 after the All-Star break and vaulting up to the second seed in the NBA’s JV conference.
The Cavs swept a feisty at times Celtics team, but suffered their first big blow by losing Kevin Love for the rest of the playoffs after Kelly Olynyk made Love tapout due to an armbar in Game 4. The Cavs then ended Tom Thibodeau’s tenure with the Bulls thanks to a 4-2 victory in the conference semifinals, but after struggling to a 3-for-13 performance from the floor in Game 3, it was announced that Kyrie had suffered a strained right foot in Game 2 of the Celtics series. He played better after the injury was announced, but in Game 6 twisted his knee after stepping on the foot of Tristan Thompson. Kyrie would miss Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, leaving LeBron in a spot that he was familiar with. Carrying the load for an injury riddled team in the playoffs.
Thankfully for LeBron he caught the Hawks at just the right time as they continued their downward spiral, which was greatly enhanced after Kyle Korver’s season ended due to a severe ankle sprain in Game 2. LeBron averaged an Oscar Robertson like 30-11-9 in the anticlimactic sweep, but he also showed flashes of the player that people just love to hate.
Here he is talking to Rachel Nichols after recording a 37-18-13 triple double in Game 3, which went to overtime. Listen to his answer when asked about getting his knee worked on during the game (it’s the second question Nichols asks).
For 15 seconds LeBron explains that his body was basically the equivalent of a crash test dummy, but he had the willpower to fight through and lead his team to a victory. He then gives all of the credit to his teammates, after giving himself the credit for fighting through a list of injuries longer than Chris Jericho’s list of a 1,004 holds.
Earlier in the game this also took place:
As my friend Marc said to me after watching the video over again the next day “Who does that? What player has ever done that?” I couldn’t give him an answer because it’s something that I had never seen before. What LeBron did wasn’t Paul Pierce in a wheelchair bad, but it did make LeBron look like he was trying to show how much pain he was fighting through instead of just fighting through the pain.
Both instances seemed a tad forced, but the post game interview was over the top. It was as if LeBron felt the need to get across his substantial list of injuries to the viewer, instead of letting the replays of him limping around the court speak for themselves. LeBron could have responded to Nichols’ question with a quick answer and moved on. His exceptional play on the court during Game 3 was loud enough to speak for itself.
Which is why LeBron didn’t need to give himself an extreme amount of credit for gutting through an injury before giving his teammates some love. We all know that without LeBron, this Cavs team would have likely missed the playoffs again.
He’s carrying a roster that consists of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, what’s left of Kyrie Irving, Timothy “I’m the guy who once stalled the Carmelo Anthony trade” Mozgov and the Australian kid to the finals. If you ranked the top five players in the finals, in their current state, you wouldn’t exactly feel comfortable putting any of those players on the list.
But when you think about it, this is perhaps the best narrative for the Cavs and LeBron. James brings home the first championship in franchise history and more importantly the first one to Cleveland since 1964. All while playing the role of an underdog and without the assistance of Wade, Bosh, and Spoelstra’s system.
The perfecting ending to LeBron’s homecoming story is being laid out in front of him, but will he be able to write it correctly?
Follow me on Twitter @ScottDargis
(Stats courtesy of Pro Basketball Reference)