Monday, March 30, 2009
It's Not Wise To Bet Against LeBron James
LeBron James appeared on "60 Minutes" Sunday night, but before the episode aired you had probably already seen the clip of his miraculous circus shot. In it, James - while filming a segment with Steve Kroft at The House The King Built, a.k.a the gym of his alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School - effortlessly tosses a one-handed, underhanded shot into the basket from 60 feet away.
If you or I were to make a shot like that, we would have no choice but to celebrate; it would be an organic reaction to making a miracle shot that we didn't really expect to make. But LeBron doesn't treat it like a lucky shot; in fact, he even shoots it like he knows it's going to go in. His response to its tickling off the net is both cocky and causal. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, LeBron has a reputation for making such trick baskets. These seemingly trivial feats make James seem like a mythic figure walking the earth, the kind of athlete my generations kids will tell their grand-kids legends about, fact mixed in with fiction. They make him seem like a modern-day Babe Ruth.
Which he pretty much is.
Should he win the MVP? Pfft. Don't insult him. Of course he should win the MVP. It's his birthright. He was literally put on this earth to collect Maurice Podoloff Trophy's. Sure, I can think of several reasons for both Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant as to why those two gentlemen are deserving of the award. But I can also think of one major reason why they are not: LeBron James. The "King" has learned to dominate on both ends, he's led a much improved (by the single acquisition of point guard Mo Williams) but still not great collection of teammates to the league's best record (61-14 through Thursday, a full two games ahead of Kobe and the Lakers), and he's having one of the best all-around statistical seasons anyone has ever had. He is the MVP. Just hand him the damn trophy now.
The real question should be, Can he walk on water?
By the time LeBron James was 16, he was already the best high school basketball player in the country, the only sophomore ever selected first-team All-American. As a junior he made the cover of Sports Illustrated, the venerable magazine dubbing him "The Chosen One." As a senior, he started the trend of ESPN airing high school games showcasing the nations best prep ballplayers. He entered the pro game amid an unprecedented level of scrutiny and expectation, which he couldn't possibly live up to, everyone thought. Afterall, he was only a kid.
And so in his very first NBA game, he put up a 25-6-9 against a championship-contending Sacramento squad. Thus began the legend of LeBron James. Everything that has followed since has been an extension of that night: One of the ten best players in the league by the end of his rookie season; top five by the end of his second; 31-7-6 in his third year, at 21; leading an otherwise horrific Cavs team to the Finals at 22; putting up a 30-8-7 last season; and this season, taking his game to yet another level and establishing himself as perhaps the best NBA player since Michael Jordan, even though he's still several years removed from the onset of his prime.
The moniker given to him by SI is now also a tattoo spread across his upper back, and I have already in this article given an effort to properly define his greatness by making an allusion to a feat accomplished only by Jesus. James does inspire sacrilege. As far as basketball players go, he may be the most God-like we've seen. His physical makeup, when conjoined with the nature of his athleticism, seems unreasonable. That someone so big and burly could also be so fast, quick, agile, and explosive does not seem anatomically possible. But through James we see that it is.
It would seem unlikely that a team as humbly composed as the Cavaliers of James' first five seasons could challenge, step for step, such superior (on paper) squadrons as the Chauncey Billups-led powerhouse Detroit Pistons and the current Boston Celtics. But they did.
Even this season, with the addition of Williams, Cleveland has overachieved. Williams is a very good point guard, but ideally, you'd want him as your third best player, not your second, especially if you planned on winning 65-plus games. And yet the Cavs march on, the best win total in team history and counting, more than any other reason because LeBron is, by his lonesome, better than many teams' two best players combined.
Here is the point: At Cleveland's media day back in September, James said of the Cavs championship aspirations, "There's not much of an excuse now." They have cruised through the regular season, and now the playoffs approach rapidly.
So, James' exploits being what they are, is there any reason to believe that his preseason stance will not result in a Cleveland championship?
As a Lakers fan, LeBron's words worried me. I took them as an ominous warning. Eight months later, I'm still scared, even though I think the Lakers have the best team.
The Cavs put the fear of LeBron in me.