The sheer amount of opinions regarding the polarizing, trillion-dollar, often 30-point-droppin' entity that is LeBron James is, frankly, daunting. Few are immune from the fatigue that tends to hit after trying to follow the guy for any extended period of time, and for those of us who are charged with reporting on the 32 daily storylines that follow James around, it's almost enough to make you wonder if all those amazing 37-point, 12-assist, nine-rebound games are worth it.
And there's this run from TV's Stephen Colbert, because that's how he likes to be introduced. Admittedly, Colbert's in character, but not really:
There is also this clip, which is actually quite stirring (big surprise there), reminding people why LeBron James is no Michael Jordan. Yet.
To me, the point of that clip isn't to rub it in, or to pump up Jordan's legacy with overly dramatic music and a litany of hi-def shots (mostly, strangely, from Jordan's worst healthy year as a Chicago Bull, in 1997-98). No, it's to point out why this guy was so great. Not with twaddle, references to him being asked to play on the JV team in high school, or whatever impetus you associate with spurring him on to be the greatest so far.
But because, as you can see from these clips, Michael Jordan liked to play in the post quite a bit. He liked to take the best, most efficient, shot available whenever possible. Not all the time -- even as a Bulls fan I was often frustrated with a good chunk of Jordan's shot selections -- but enough. And certainly MJ did it more often in his worst days, and I'm sorry LeBron, than we saw from James this June.
And best, there is this, from Hoopspeak's Beckley Mason, on why it's not hatred that we have in place for LeBron, but disappointment:
I didn't need to like LeBron off the court because I appreciated his capability (a word LeBron is annoyingly fond of— we get it, you can do anything, please do it) to be uniquely great. He possesses a combination of physical ability and mental acuity that only a handful of players have ever approached. He's set individual records and a new pace for career achievement. I expected excellence from him in the Finals not because I think he's a great guy, or made the right decision about where to work, or respects the history of the game. I expected him to kick ass against Dallas because since I started watching ball with a critical eye, he's the best I've ever seen.
But LeBron James failed. He went limp before the submission hold was ever applied. I watched him give in, but to what I'm not sure. That's what makes his precipitous fall so hard to accept. James was defended by utterly conventional means and struggled to stay with a smallish, older shooting guard who boasts an even more absurd forehead-to-headband ratio than his own. He had ample opportunities to assert himself—in the words of Nuke Laloosh, to announce his presence with authority. Weren't these the moments James had relished his whole career?
In a conversation Tuesday night, and not cavalierly (and I swear I just wrote that without realizing the pun until I had to remind myself not to capitalize the "c"), I brought up Eddy Curry in reference to James. There's no reasonable way you can compare the drive between the two, but perhaps there still is a small bit of Eddy Curry in him. He might obsess over the game, the league, his particular game, and his expectations nearly as much as we do … but it's still not nearly as much as we do.
His father, whom he did not grow up with, was apparently a local basketball player of great renown. And the game was a way out, something he clearly enjoyed (how else do you explain his willingness to share the ball, and the credit?), but also something that was among many things he was interested in. I'm not going to bore you with tsk-tsk'ing about planning parties on game night, because I shouldn't have to remind you that Jordan partied on game night. Hell, Jordan partied on game morning.
But like someone who was shoved into this mess, as was the case with Curry, LeBron just can't compete with the level of enthusiasm that we have for our own expectations. And while his current (because this can all change, in a year, and we'll look like fools -- happily, for me at least) failure in competitive terms continues to frustrate; we have to at least understand before we scorch the earth. The guy let himself, us, and his team down; and he looked pretty ridiculous following Game 6 in attempting to disarm his critics. But this is all supposed to be a learning experience, as it was for Jordan and Kobe even into their 30s, and not a summation.
So this is where he's at, in the summer of 2011. Luckily for him, if history (the same thing that has us damning him to begin with) is any indication, he'll have at least a whole 'nother decade to turn things around. Hopefully he, and we, get that.
- LeBron James