Potential; as opposed to the actual, also capable of being or becoming. We’re all born with potential, an impending promise of what we could become if we live up to expectations and explore all the possibilities which are presented by our God given abilities. So what do you do with an individual who has lived up to their perceived potential? Do you celebrate them for achieving all of what society had projected that they would become or do you move the metaphorical goalposts? Do you crown the conquering young man who you’ve watched develop since he was a fledgling novice or do you skewer him for any slight misstep on his path to glory? What do you do when you accomplish your ultimate goal and it’s still not enough? When an individual ascends to the top of the mountain in sports, one of the last few true meritocracies still left in our society, how can you deny them? We fans, the crowd at the Roman Coliseum, project our value system onto our modern day gladiators and get upset if they cannot live up to the ideals that we ourselves couldn’t aspire to. We never respect the gentle or moderate king, we want our athletes and coaches to act like people that we ourselves would never want to be around or work for. We romanticize the Apex predator, glamorize the cutthroat assassin, and celebrate the leaders who act like dictators or tyrants. Pusha- T was correct when he surmised that “being humble gets no respect.”
LeBron James time is now. He’s fulfilled the promise of that first Sports Illustrated cover at age 16, and done it all with a smile on his face. Sure it was fun to poke fun at LeBron James and the Miami Heat when they were struggling in their first season with the “big 3”. Of course it was amusing to snicker at LeBron as he writhed and came up small in the 2011 NBA Finals. However, isn’t it just as enthralling and refreshing to watch him blossom into the complete player and leader that we always thought he could be? Something that was very illuminating was an interview with a James contemporary Kevin Durant after his team was eliminated in the 2nd round of the 2013 Western Conference Playoffs. Durant stated, “Of course, the ultimate goal in this league is to win a championship. But I’m never going to say I wasted a year. I’m blessed to even wake up and do something I love every day. So it’s never wasted.” He continued, “I don’t give a damn, I’m going to be who I’m going to be. I’m not Kobe Bryant. I’m not Michael Jordan. I’m not LeBron James. I’m not Magic Johnson. I’m me. I’m not going to ever compromise myself, my integrity and what I believe in for winning some basketball games and winning a championship. That’s just not how I was brought up.” This statement gave me real pause because the words were so powerful and against the grain. Instantly the thought of James crossed my mind, because he had been hinting around these very same sentiments his entire career. He’s not Jordan, he’s not Magic, he’s not Kobe, he’s LeBron James, in the same way that all those players weren’t like those that came before them.
Chew on this bit of data for a moment Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double during the 1962 season, 30.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 11.4 APG, on 48% shooting. However in 1962 the average NBA team totaled an average of 152 possessions per game. In comparison, LeBron James 2013 averages of 26.8 PPG, 8 RPG and 7.3 APG on 57% percent shooting have come on 93 possessions per game. When you turn the TV and listen to commentators, some of which are former players, yes we see you “Tragic” Johnson and we didn’t forget the 1984 Finals that you singlehandedly choked away in 3 separate games vs. your biggest rival, cast aspersions on James depending on the half. People act as if they’ve never stumbled, had a setback or fallen short of their goal and they won’t allow the modern day athlete any room to grow. Where is the perspective, where is the fairness, and why are we always in such a rush to judgment. Remember when Kobe couldn’t win a ring without Shaq? Not far enough back for you? How about when Michael Jordan was a selfish gunner who didn’t make his teammates better and would never win a championship being the leading scorer in the league or be as good as his predecessors Larry, Magic and Dr. J? Why must we always do this obstinate dance? We build up the young talent, crush them when they don’t meet our criterions and then sidle up next to them like fawning romantics once they have their breakthrough? Why do we have to constantly crush our emerging Phenom’s with the weight of the successes that their predecessors enjoyed?
LeBron James gets it done, just not in the way that you’re used to and it makes you uncomfortable. One game it might be 35, 10 and 12. The very next it might be 24,18, and 7. He might have 20, 8 and 5 the next night, but hound a top 5 player into a 3-19 shooting night. He’s not like a Kobe or Jordan who’s going to come out and drop 55 on you and call you everything but a child of God while doing it. It’s not him. It’s not in his DNA. Like Dan LeBatard say, “He’s a 6-9, 275 pound basketball calculator, making high efficiency decisions in midair.” His role on the court changes game to game, quarter by quarter, minute by minute and sometimes even possession by possession. LeBron’s athletic ability and size alone generate such a seismic disturbance on the court that his mere presence creates a vacuum that his opponents are constantly trying to avoid him. He always makes the right basketball play. Isn’t that what fans of the game always say they want from NBA players, instead of being a self-interested, callus gunner? It seems as though a great deal of young players like Durant, Paul George, Derek Rose, Kyrie Irving and a myriad of others are following his lead and not trying to be like Kobe’s, Jordan’s and Allen Iverson’s of the world. Is there anything wrong with seeing more efficient team basketball? NO? Then why the strong outpouring of criticism and dare I say “hate” when he struggles through a half? Do you really hate LeBron or is the reflection in the mirror showing you a portrait of your own missed potential.