Friday, July 9

LeBron's a Lot Like Us (But Much Richer)

Going to leave all the whining about the special to other people. You know, the column where the writer talks about the absurdity of a one hour special and about how LeBron hasn't won anything, but this is their 50th column about him versus only one about Tim Duncan. Because writers care about writing about winners more than... what? I already wrote about this? Sorry, was just trying to fit into the dead horsebeater crowd. Fine, let's take a deeper look at LeBron and how he's just like the rest of us, and that's why some don't like him.

Let's take a quick trip back to the beginning of LeBron's NBA career. When he debuted he was 18 years of age. His high school games had been on ESPN and all were available through local cable providers in Ohio, by his junior year had to be moved to the University of Akron and more than 20,000 had showed up to see him in the state playoffs. Shaq had come to watch him play, he'd had multiple personal conversations with Michael Jordan and had multiple friends already in the NBA. Oh, and he'd been on the Cover of Sports Illustrated, twice. After his sophomore year he was described by an NBA scout as, "the best high school player he'd ever seen." A coach that faced both him and Kobe proclaimed that James was better. Kobe must not of heard, because he gave the King one of the rumored 12 pairs of his American Flag Kobe II spaceboots. This was his world (yet there's been a lot wrtiten about him be self-anointed).

So he starts to believe the hype. He's 18-years old and starts talking about a desire to be the greatest. This was the origin of the expectations he set. Unlike most people, he can't get away from them. When we were all 18, we had high hopes and expectations. Most of us thought we'd be further along in the venture of life than we are today. Many of us work in jobs we never would have foreseen as we prepared to venture into the world. Most of us also, don't get reminded of our dreams. "Remember when you were 18 and you thought you'd be pitching in the World Series?" Yes. "Well, now you're 26 and working in a Best Buy, what the hell happened?" Pretty dick thing to say, right? Well, LeBron still lives with those expectations. He's 25 now, and while he has the world at his fingertips he's stuck under a microscope and not just any microscope, but the most intense microscope sports has ever seen (tempted to throw a 'since Jackie Robinson' in there, but comparing a current athlete to a former player involved with civil rights didn't work out well for The Sports Guy). Everywhere he goes things he said nearly a decade ago are used by "haters" to downplay all he has done.

And he has done a lot. He grew up bouncing from place to place. He'd seen guns and drugs being used growing up, but where The King came from doesn't matter now, it's all about rings. If he would've won just one in Cleveland, people say, it would be more valuable than three in Miami. Riiiiiiiiight. As if 6>5, 5>4, and 5>0 haven't been used since the NBA Finals wrapped up. There's no asterisks. Just titles. "He'll never be Michael" they say, but that's just it. LeBron knows that. He's known that.

LeBrons's done everything we could ask of a young star in today's age. He's stayed out of trouble, he's been a good teammate, he single-handedly led a team to the Finals, he worked on his game, stayed in shape, didn't leave his small market team and what was the result? More criticism. "He doesn't want to take the last shot." "He's won nothing." "He's a king without a crown." And somewhere along the way, LeBron realized trying to be the best sucks. It's wonderful when you get to the mountain top, but the climb is difficult. Nobody played harder than Michael and nobody works harder than Kobe. That's what makes them special. Not necessarily better, just special. Most of us aren't wired that way and for most of us, it isn't worth it. "I've earned the right to drink a little too much. This week was rough." "I partied a little too hard last night, so I missed my workout, but it's only one." "Some times you just have to sit back, relax and do nothing." 99% have said these or some variation before. The same 99% that will criticize an athlete with "I wish he was in the gym working on his jump shot" when we see a picture of him out at a party. So LeBron said screw it, I'm not going to be the GOAT. He can't admit it publicly, but he knows it.

If any of us reaches 97% of our potential, our families will be ecstatic, our lives will be charmed and no one will criticize us. We can still have families, take vacations and no one will ever question what about that last 3%. Unless you're LeBron James. He realized he'll never be able to silence all the critics, but what he can do is enjoy the journey. He can shoot for 3 hours instead of four and be home to play with his kids. He can wake up at nine instead of seven and stay out after dinner with Jay-Z. He can have a life outside of basketball and still be successful on the court. If LeBron wins 4 or 5 rings (and he will win some) he'll be compared to Magic. No one talks about Magic's work ethic. No one questions whether Magic should've improved his shot sooner. LeBron can have a life and his fallback place in basketball lore is beside Magic Johnson. Think about that. He can still be remembered as a top 10 player in the history of the league when it's all said and done and he doesn't have to grind day in and day out. He can spend some of that money he's earned (and not just on large 'I'm sorry' rings). He can have a relationship with his family, relationships so often strained with any workaholic.

20 years from now people won't remember that he went to "DWade's team" they'll remember he won rings. Most people forget how Kobe got the Lakers' and he's still playing. People don't consider the Celtics most recent title as needing an asterisk, so why would LeBron's? Those expectations "he" created? He's lowered them. In his mind, he's perfectly at peace with Magic status just as 99.9% of us would be.

1 comment:

Cleet said...

Awesome post. Awesome, sobering, and gritty. Not even sure I completely agree but well said.