LeBron James. I wanted to wait for today’s game before writing this. Today’s game against the Pacer’s was a big one. As of right now the Pacers have been deemed the best threat to the Heat’s gold paved walkway to the finals again. Also as the Heat hit 18 games in a row, they marked the largest threat before they reach “the river” portion of breaking a record that until they win out this week, will seem like an impossible task still; which is breaking a long standing record of winning 33 games in a row. This was done by the LA Lakers in 1972. Second closest team was the Houston Rockets at 22 wins. They can surpass the Rockets by this time next week, but will have to beat Atlanta, and win 4 in a row on road, with the fourth being in Boston on Monday. As great of a feat as either surpassing 2nd or 1st on that list would be, it’s all moot in the current picture of the NBA. Regardless, the Heat will still be the favorite to repeat, and LeBron will still be head and shoulders above any other candidate for the MVP race.
LeBron has turned a corner of late. Although he has been shooting like never before this season, I think that corner was more accurately turned in last season’s playoff series against the Celtics. If we can blame the Celtics for the current trend of super teams (or the NBA bubble economy as I like to call it; but that’s for another article) then we might as well blame the Celtics, and more specifically blame Garnett for full powered LeBron. Garnett might be the best non coach motivator of players in the NBA. His most recent student (victim?) was Carmelo who one can’t help but notice prior to his injury had been playing with a sharper edge than before.
Now back to LeBron. Anybody who knows me knows I love the NBA to a fault. To the point where I at one point felt it necessary to hate the NCAA (this was back when NBA was in a lull and a lot of people were arguing college basketball was better than pro basketball; again another issue for another article). Being that I never stopped enjoying the NBA, my relationship with LeBron is a little different than how some others might view him. When LeBron went pro I hated him. I think a lot of consistent fans probably shared my views as really he signaled the “over-doneness” of the high school kid going pro. I had seen enough of those types fail, especially around that point (which obviously lead to the 1 year in college rule; to prevent stupid owners from losing so much money on untested talent) that I was unfazed by the myth and lore that followed him.
The best movie character comparison I can think of for LeBron, and I’m sure it’s not the first time anyone has made this comparison, is Anikan Skywalker. Now for this to work you’d have to think of it as if the movies were released in numerical order, so as if you’re not aware that he becomes maybe the most popular villain in movie history. I mean the obvious move of him going to Miami is very similar to joining the Dark Side, but the real emotion arch best works if you put yourself in that universe. And it’s the best way to describe my feelings with LeBron.
LeBron comes into the NBA with much fanfare. To the uninitiated fan that checks in on the NBA only when it’s in its upswings as it currently is they were immediately taken to him. We’ll call you the Obiwans. To the ones that had been there for some time, we were well aware of his potential, hell you could see his potential in just his stature, but we were weary to jump on board. After the Penny Hardaways, Grant Hills, Kwame Browns and plethora of high school kids gone pro that amounted to nothing, we always knew to maintain skepticism. These people, we’ll call them the Yodas. So to put it quickly, I hated him. I know everyone else, the media, the reinvigorated fans alike, crowned him as the chosen one. Been there done that. Sure he’s a physical freak, and can jump through the roof but let me know when he develops a jumper or learns how to harness that power and isn’t playing off of pure brute strength. Mind you at this point, I thought he had a lot of potential, but even then admittedly, I had way undervalued his potential. It wasn’t until that series, I think everyone knows what one I’m talking about, that I saw his true potential. The one where he took a very subpar team to the finals. Only second to Iverson’s 76ers for worst team to make the finals. The fact that he was in the finals at such a young age, wasn’t even that important. The most important piece was that overtime victory against the Pistons when he scored all the final points for the Cavs and no one could stop him.
He was the hero of the moment. Saving all of us from having to watch another NBA finals with the Spurs and the Pistons (and don’t think I haven’t noticed the similarities in looks of post deformation of Darth Sidious and Greg Popovich; and similarly I hated the Spurs but as I get older I begin to see some of their wisdom, just like if you go back and listen to some of Darth Sidious’ arguments as a Senator, they’re not completely outlandish)
This is the moment I went from hating him, to loving him. Just a little back story, my brother was a big Bulls fan, and therefore a big Jordan fan. So brotherly competitiveness lead me to pick a team that could possibly ascend above Jordan, I chose the Orlando Magic and have stuck with them since. I’ll preemptively thank you for your condolences. I spent my childhood hating; who I now know is the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan. So this plays into my quick turn of emotions. Now that I’m older I’d rather appreciate a player who has a chance at being the greatest than root against him. Lesson learned maybe. So LeBron goes on to lose in the finals, but in that playoffs he showed more potential on a basketball court than I’d ever seen before. I remember discussing with my buddy, “if he just gets a mid post move he’ll be unstoppable.” The bar was set.
For the next few years LeBron would flirt with greatness but always seemed to be a notch away. He wasn’t taking his off seasons serious it seemed, as he was more concerned with his brand than his brand of basketball. His jumper refused to get better, and he was relying on pure athleticism it seemed. He still put on show, but with his need to be likable and sideline dancing he inevitably lacked the killer instinct of say a Kobe Bryant. This is when I began to hate him again. He represented everything wrong with the new generation of players who had no interest in being good, and instead cared more about looking good. With his sideline dancing, and over celebration I assumed that potential we saw was inevitably going to be wasted potential.
Which actually brings me my next point of reference for LeBron being Anikan. I don’t know if Berman or his staff was all over this, but this article looking back now is borderline brilliant: http://espn.go.com/page2/s/bermanfiles/bryantwinner.html . And how is that not the nick name we call Kobe. Especially in his elder statesmen mode that he seems to be in. And if Garnett was the final push for current LeBron, the true beginning of training as a Jedi Master most definitely started with Kobe Wan Kenobi in the Olympics. It was the Olympics that LeBron witnessed what true training was. He mentions it in a few interviews post Olympics the effect witnessing Kobe’s regiment had on him. Few remember that Kobe wasn’t always a great shooter, and then one summer like a light switch, he learned to shoot and then dropped 81 points. (Seriously though, how does black mamba win? At this point we should’ve already had commercials with Kobe in a Jedi robe unveiling the next sneaker. God the commercialization that has been missed makes my head explode) LeBron learns from the master, and trains hard, and he definitely gets better, but to me I had been burned by him already, I contest this is no different than before he’ll continue to fall just short. And he does just that for the next two years.
We all know what happens next. In Star Wars and in the story arch that is LeBron. When faced with the fact that he can’t save the one thing he loves (Anikan it’s his wife; LeBron it’s Cleveland), he turns to the dark side. We all watched the decision. And as overblown as it was, it definitely rang through as something he can never take back. He’s since gained that mid post move, improved his jumper, and won a half championship (call me when it’s a full season). He since learned to take over games on a regular basis. Sure it may have taken KG’s prodding. But full powered LeBron is here. Where reality veers away from Star Wars is in the fact that there really isn’t a Luke out there right now. So Imagine, Darth Vader never meets his son, never regains that soft spot. And that’s what we have on our hands. So not much change will come. And to equate “the decision”, it’s similar to the destruction of Alderaan. Which would explain my feelings now for LeBron. I guess I may like what he’s doing now, but it’ll never be the same as before, cause in the back of my mind, I know he blew up a planet (Cleveland is fucked, for a long time. And anyone who argues he can go back and win them one, I just don’t see that happening. I think it’s too late and honestly that might’ve been it for Cleveland. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cleveland Cavaliers become the New Jersey Cavaliers, or the Sacramento Cavaliers; cause the economy there is only getting worse) And I’ll definitely turn off the hate and attempt to appreciate what LeBron is doing now as he works his way into the argument of best ever, but with no Luke in sight, I’ll also know he’ll destroy all my heroes in the process. Our only hope is that maybe somehow the Heat got too hot, too early this season, and somehow someone kills Kobe Wan in front of Kevin Durant or Derrick Rose. Otherwise another championship might be just the tipping point for the King Jame’s Empire to begin.