When you’re an athlete at the highest level, you find motivation wherever you can.
In the case of LeBron James, that means finding slights that don’t exist.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar talked with reporters from the NBA bubble on Monday about the looming NBA reboot and the league’s MVP race. He believes that he’s made a strong case for the award.
“As far as the MVP race, I think I’ve shown what I’m capable doing — not only individually from a team’s perspective, us being No. 1 in the West. There was a lot of conversation about, you know, LeBron could do those things in the East, but if he ever came to the West, what could he do?
“I heard all that. To be able to have our team at the top of the Western Conference and playing the way we were playing at that time and the way I was playing, that’s definitely a good feeling.”
Giannis is the heavy MVP favorite
James and the 49-14 Lakers have had an outstanding season. But the MVP race is a wrap for Giannis Antetokounmpo. The NBA reportedly sent a memo last week that bubble games won’t count for individual awards. They’ll only consider games played prior to the the league’s COVID-19 hiatus.
Antetokounmpo has held a firm grip on the award while leading the Milwaukee Bucks to the league’s best record at 53-12. While James has put up a remarkable stat line (25.7 ppg, 10.6 apg, 7.9 rpg, 49.8 FG percentage), Antetokounmpo’s is demonstrably better (29.6 ppg, 13.7 rpg, 5.8 apg, 54.7 FG percentage).
Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo stands as an overwhelming -2500 favorite in MGM’s MVP futures odds. James is the second-best bet at +900.
‘Washed King’ reboot
But James is making his case regardless. And he’s making up slights — again — to back it up. James scoffed about criticism that he couldn’t do “those things” in the Western Conference. If “those things” means being one of the top handful of players in the game, then that’s something no reasonable basketball mind has ever said about the consensus top-two player to ever play the game.
The straw man argument echoes James’ preseason “Washed King” campaign in which he sought to prove his doubters that called him “washed” wrong. When in fact, nobody of any credibility ever called James “washed.”
On Monday, James backed up his “do those things” in the West case by citing Paul Rivera’s Twitter account with an unattributed quote that “He won’t do that in the West.”
Who’s Paul Rivera? He’s James’ partner and co-creator of his HBO show “The Shop,” James’ ultimate platform for constructing his own narrative.
The actual East vs. West argument
Of course there was plenty of conversation during James’ run to eight straight NBA Finals appearances about the strength of the East vs. the West. It generally suggested doubt about James’ ability to do the same in a consistently stronger West. Judging by his 3-6 record in the Finals, those doubts were warranted.
James’ run to eight straight Finals is remarkable and should be lauded. But there’s no reasonably arguing against the fact that he did so in a regularly watered-down East.
And James certainly wasn’t making the case on Monday that he’s proven those arguments wrong. He might want to win a single playoff game with the Lakers before taking that line.
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