The Case for Lebron James
I felt like last night’s blow out win by the Spurs over the Heat probably made many people feel the way I felt when Joffrey died on Game of Thrones. Sure it was good that his character ended, but you wanted a more satisfying and violent revenge, perhaps at the hands of one of the Stark children. Perhaps that is what would have been better for Lebron haters. Perhaps seeing him blow out both knees while being dunked on by Kawhi Leonard as his family was executed by a Dan Gilbert led death squad, like the Czar and his family during the Russian Revolution, would have been more satisfying end to the bizarre fixation that the country has with Lebron. All of this is supposedly based on The Decision (which you all watched – you only seemed to turn righteous and pious once he didn’t choose your team, esecially you NY Knick fans) and the pep rally the Big Three had. Really? So he lost in the Finals to the Mavericks, giving you the schadenfreude you needed, but then wins back to back titles against a young upstart (Thunder) and a great, respected veteran team (Spurs) and still all that pent up envy and resentment came spilling out after the “cramp game” four years later? And now the world of ill informed, semi-literate sports fans whose hoops expertise often extends no further than NBA2K games can finally declare Lebron as a much lesser player than everyone who has ever won a title. His stats put him slightly ahead of Larry Bird (in 2 fewer seasons AND a career that started right out of high school, though Bird’s final few seasons were back-injury hampered so maybe that cancels out Lebron’s youth), his championships put him with Wilt Chamberlain and Isaiah Thomas’s careers and his overall career trajectory in terms of overall stats has no real equal at this age. So here are a few points I would like to make in defense of Lebron (it was nice having last year off, though I did love writing this right BEFORE his epic Game 6 against the Celtics in 2012):
Stop Calling Wade and Bosh Superstars
I know it is convenient to cite Bosh and Wade as superstars that Lebron ran to to get his titles, but that is not Raptor Chris Bosh and that is not 2006 Dwyane Wade playing out there. If Lebron signed with a team that had Bill Russell and Michael Jordan on its roster would you say “Lebron’s a pussy who signed with 2 of the 5 greatest players of all time to win titles” or would you say “those old dudes ain’t doing shit for Lebron.” Wade has allowed Lebron to carry a heavy load the last two years for him during the regular season in the name of him being healthy come playoff time. The result has been a horrible playoffs last year leading into the Finals where Wade was admittedly solid and this year’s finals where Wade was horrific.
As for Bosh – he is a jump shooting small forward in a power forward’s body. He was outplayed by anyone the Spurs put down low. Legitimately Boris Diaw appeared to be a better player than Chris Bosh. Now are you willing to call Boris Diaw a “superstar?” I didn’t think so. That label has not applied to Wade or Bosh for a few years, but it sticks, because it is simply a tool to diminish Lebron’s standing as the great player of his day.
The Spurs Are a Great Team with a Great Coach – Better Than Any Team Michael Jordan Beat for A Title
Lost in this really has been the greatness of the Spurs. Tim Duncan now has 5 titles. He has won 4 with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, making them the only trio to win four titles since Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper and (I think) James Worthy. But instead of viewing the Heat’s loss to them as a great achievement by the Spurs, it if offered as proof that “Lebron is not as good as Michael Jordan.” Two points here – one – if the first insult constantly hurled at a player, whose game and body have no resemblance to Michael Jordan, is to say “he is no Michael Jordan,” then you are obviously constantly comparing him to Michael Jordan and doing it for a reason. Like if the UN is debating if genocide is occurring, my instinct is to say “if you are thinking about it, let’s just assume for safety sake that it is genocide.” Similarly, if you are obsessing over a comparison between MJ and Lebron then just admit that his talent and unique brilliance is there and the comparison is worth talking about halfway through his career.
The second point is that I do not think Michael Jordan ever beat a team as good as the Popovich Spurs. Not to say he would not have. He had a better cast and a better coach than Lebron, as well as greatness that earns him the benefit of the doubt. But no team MJ ever beat was as good as the Spurs. The closest two teams I can think of are the Utah Jazz and the NY Knicks. The Jazz were a system based team led by Hall of Famers that produced good play out of mediocre supporting cast members (an upper-middle class Spurs). But they were never as good as the Spurs. Clearly. The Knicks on the other hand played the Bulls tough with a rough style from a great coach, Pat Riley. But they never had more than 2 stars and Ewing was a low level superstar if you want to elevate him above simple “star” status. So if you are going to say that losing in the Finals, as Lebron has done three times (to be fair he lost in the finals twice at an age younger than Michael Jordan’s 1st Finals appearance – don’t penalize him for being too good, too young), is clear and convincing evidence of Jordan’s superiority (as I have seen many people write) then be honest and realize that these Spurs much more resemble the Rockets that Jordan never played. Except these Spurs are better than those Rockets as well.
Shaq, Rodman & Pippen
If you want to compare Kobe, MJ and Lebron on pure title numbers then let me ask you this – who would you pick 1st, 2nd and 3rd of these supporting stars:
1998-2004 Shaq and a loaf of bread
1995-1998 Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman
2012-2014 Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade
Lebron won 60+ games twice with Cleveland and made the NBA Finals with Anderson Verejao and Mo Williams as his two best mates (and the now fully exposed Mike Brown as coach – Lebron should also have Brown’s coach of the year award). Kobe won his first 3 titles with the most dominant physical force in the NBA since Wilt Chamberlain. Do you honestly think Lebron could not have won multiple titles in his first 7 years as a pro if he was playing with the Black Mountain (Game of Thrones reference and my preferred moniker for Shaq in his prime)? Do you think playing with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in mid 90s form – a glue-like defender and multi-skilled offensive player and a tenacious rebounder (someting sorely lacking from the Heat) would not have been better than a phsically and mentally defeated Wade and a jump shooting Euro big man in a dinosaur’s body named Bosh? If your answer to the above question is Bosh and Wade then as Adam Carolla says “you’re either stupid or a liar.”
You don’t hate Lebron; you might just dislike yourself (plus he became “uppity”)
This year alone Lebron spoke out in the Trayvon Martin case and took an early stance against Donald Sterling. This may seem meaningless (though he put more than a hashtag on the line when he did so), but it was a lot more than Kobe or MJ did with their clout at leading stars of the NBA. Since The Decision Lebron has been a great ambassador of the game, a model citizen (at least in the ways we as fans could know) and a spectacular player on the court. So why do we hate him? Because we can never be him. And for a split second with The Decision, he let us all know that to our faces. He changed jobs and it was ESPN’s highest rated program of the year. We change jobs – not even our Facebook friends really give a shit. He is a physical marvel, a savvy business man and appears to have a happy family life. In other words – he has it all nd he did not have to be in a Dove Soap natural beauty commercial to prove it. But unlike Tim Duncan, Lebron made us feel a bit of shame and envy. What man wouldn’t want to go to warm climate, play ball with his friends and be a sports icon?
The rich irony I have observed over the last few years watching playoff games in bars surrounded by guys who work in finance calling Lebron James a “scumbag” or an “arrogant douche” would make me laugh if it was not so insidious. Money manipulation and moving from their cities to bigger, cooler cities like NYC are both apparently noble pursuits, but when Lebron does it, he’s a villain. As I have said before I felt bad for Cleveland when Lebron left. I like the city and I, like many sports fans can romanticize the homegrown talent connection to sports teams. But what happened with Lebron was worse, and yes there is a racial component to this. He was the good boy who stayed home, helped the town, knew his role was allowed to flourish and have praised heaped on him as long as he stayed that nice humble boy from the town. But when he wanted to go the big city he got a little too “uppity.” I would have not made these references before, but the jealousy and rage of Lebron have lingered too long to be based on any rational reason. NBA fans, including the rage filled white fans (according to a recent poll Lebron lost popularity among black and white fans, but has since become more popular with black fans, but is still not even at pre-The Decision levels of popularity with white fans), basically had the burden of being fans’ favorite house servant – giving us amazing feats of enjoyment with humble habits right in our living rooms and sports bars. So of course the betrayal felt even worse when he became perceived as the league’s most brash field hand (even though neither was ever true, but that is how the perception was). If you are going to be better than most of America Lebron you better not let them know it. Barry Bonds can be a jerk and disliked because he was always a jerk. BUT LEBRON – you made us think you were a good one – someone who would entertain us, but never make us jealous – and then you turn around and act like you are better? That is unforgivable. We would never let Allen Iverson in our home so we would never feel duped, but Lebron, you were the humble, hard working one! Never again!
So let’s just hope if Kawhi Leonard’s career keeps up its star trajectory that he keeps his mouth shut for the rest of his career (which actually seems like a distinct possibility).
Great watching you play Lebron and I hope you make your haters eat shit next year. And as it should be, the final words should be about the Spurs – great run, great team and led by a guy all of America can root for – a wife cheating, former teammate-wife banging, French point guard named Tony Parker. #AmericanRoleModel