Lebron James, Expectations, and Excuses

I’m not a big Lebron James fan.  Never have been.  It has nothing to do with “The Decision”, which even he’ll admit was an epic fail.  I’ve just never really been sold on the hype.  I’ll admit he’s extremely talented.  And that’s probably why I’m not a fan.  I feel for all that talent that he’s a bit, underachieving.  Let me explain…

I remember when Lebron first came into the NBA as an 18 year old High School phenom.  Every basketball fan went nuts.  Before he set foot on the floor for his first game he was unceremoniously dubbed “King James, the greatest basketball player ever”.  He was going to revolutionize basketball and make Michael Jordan a distant memory.  I couldn’t understand how someone who had never started a game could have his career defined already as greater than Jordan.

Now, Lebron James is in his 9th season and I’m still wondering when the magic will occur.  He doesn’t have a title, but diehard fans and even many sports commentators are delusionally convinced he’ll go on a streak to make the Bulls, Lakers, and Celtics dynasties pale by comparison.  On the list of “clutch” players he would list 10 others he’d rather pass to.  In a great follow-up article to the 2012 All-Star game, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports put it best; “Every great player misses in great moments, every great player fails. But this sport wants to see James’ willingness to take the chance.”

I don’t see him taking the chance.  I don’t see him rising above.  I don’t see the competitive edge that puts him in the same class as Magic, Bird, Jordan, and yes Kobe.  And that’s the problem I have.  He almost seems lazy.  He’s got the money, fame, house in Miami, and celebrity friends.  He even has the title of greatest player ever.  So why work any harder?  People will make the excuses for him.  “He didn’t have the right players around him in Cleveland”.  “Three players can’t carry the whole team in Miami”.

If Lebron James doesn’t want to earn the title of “Greatest Basketball Player Ever” that’s okay with me.  After “The Decision” Nike put out a commercial where Lebron says at the end “Should I be who you want me to be?”  I’d say no.  But he hasn’t really said who he wants to be either.  If he wants to be a cold-blooded killer on the court, screaming to take the last shot and carry his team despite their flaws then step up and do it.  If he just wants to be a great basketball player who had a lot of fun, made lots of money, and had a good career, then do that.  Right now I feel like he’s reveling in mediocrity and enjoying success because of it.

Does anyone really know what expectation to have of him anymore?  Was there ever an expectation?  He achieved it all without ever having to do anything.  We gave it to him.  We crowned him the “King” without taking a shot.  Our expectations have photoshopped his flaws much the way we want out supermodels photoshopped to unrealistic proportions.

Michael Jordan was full of flaws.  There was no photoshop for him, and he didn’t want it.  Even his hall of Fame speech was flawed.  He pointed out how hard he worked and how competitive he was.  Even mocking people who put him down on his road to greatness.  Michael Jordan earned every moment he has been praised as the Greatest of All Time.  But Lebron never had that.  And most likely never will.  How will people look at him if he winds up like Karl Malone or Charles Barkley, having never won a ring?  What will it take?  Or does it need to take anything?

Lebron’s first major ad campaign was simply titled “Witness”.  Witness what?  I’m still waiting.

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