I know I haven’t posted in a long time, but I’ve been really busy with my day job, you know the one that pays the bills, but that’s no excuse and I promise more posts for the rest of the season. So here we go, I’m going to take you down a path covered in sci-fi themes and cookies.
A short, stocky, slightly overweight guy in a terrible yellow hoodie steps to half court. He turns away from the basket and calling on the strength of Odin himself launches a flailing hook shot.
Everything slows down. A look of sheer terror mixed with indigestion falls on the shooters face as he watches the ball soar. The ball slices through the air and 20,000 Miamians hold their breaths. I laugh out loud, because there is no chance this ball goes in. I don’t even think that the ball going to make it within 5 feet of the rim.
Then, just as I take a drink of my Bud Light (sponsor me please) the unthinkable happens. The ball hits the rim, the ball rolls in, the falls out from the bottom of the net. My beer dribbles down my chin and on my lap (dramatization.)
The shooter throws his arms up! LeBron comes leaping into the screen, launches himself at the elated and unsuspecting fan and they both fall crashing to the ground in a pile of pure surprised joy.
Now stop time. Hop into my blue Police Box and let’s go back to 2010. Everything I described is still true, LeBron leaps onto the fan and celebrates this amazing moment.
Twitter explodes! “LeBron is such a media whore!” “He’s only excited cuz he could never hit a clutch shot like that.” “LeBrick James should hire this guy to teach him how to make a clutch shot!” And some other nonsensical tweets with poor spelling and even worse grammar (having made that jab I’m really nervous I missed something during editing and now this post has a speeling or grammar error.)
Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless create a weeks’ worth of “debate” on First Take about LeBron constantly needing to be loved and constantly seeking media attention. The story stops being about a fan that made an amazing shot and becomes yet another moment the media takes to bash LeBron.
Now fast forward to the moments immediately after the shot went through.
It’s 2013, and the story now is about how much fun LeBron has. What a great guy LeBron is for making this fans year! The story is an incredible shot, the story is an incredible player, and the story is an incredible moment.
The question is what has changed? It’s been 3 years, 2 and a half seasons. LeBron hasn’t changed, circumstances haven’t changed, and scenarios haven’t changed. LeBron’s fans are just as ardent in defending his greatness as they have ever been. His teammates are just as adamant in defending his selflessness as they have always been. He still over answers interview questions. He is still active on social media, he still jumps out of the gym and he is still responsible for incredible Magic Johnson-esq passes and powerful Dominique Wilkins-esq dunks.
What hasn’t changed is that’s he’s still anywhere between 6’8” and 6’10” 240lbs and 270lbs. He’s still faster and more in control than anyone in the league and he’s having another MVP caliber season.
So what changed? He won a NBA Championship, and on a team with former NBA Finals MVP DeWayne Wade and perennial All-Star and Olympian Chris Bosh he was the clear stand out. It was obvious that the Heat could not have beaten the Thunder last year without LeBron and with Bosh and Wade hurt for most of playoffs they wouldn’t have made it past the Pacers.
Nothing else has changed. His personality is still packed with that same childlike wonderment; his game is still an unbelievable combination of subtle agility and over handed power. He can kill you with kindness by dishing out incredible, make you do double-take passes, or if you’re Reggie Evans he can do you dirty like Django on a mission to rescue his wife.
So what has changed? Fans changed. Fans love a champion, and are willing to let champions get away with just about anything (double murder anyone?) Champions can be cold, brash and unsympathetic and fans chalk it up to a killer instinct necessary to become champion. Champions can feint humility and unleash the more braggadocios sides of their personality and fans claim that it is earned hubris.
And in LeBron’s case what was once seen as a lack of Public Relations IQ and a hunger for attention is now seen as fun. Actions that once led fans to believe that LeBron wasn’t taking the game seriously enough is now seen as LeBron playing with a sense of levity now that the burden of winning a title has been lifted off of his shoulders.
What hasn’t changed is LeBron’s ability and the ferocity with which he attacks the game. What hasn’t changed is LeBron’s work ethic as he continues to improve.
With 9 years experience LeBron is having the best season of his career. Shooting a career high 56% from the field, 42% from beyond the arch, LeBron is also averaging 8 rebounds a game and a career low 3 turnovers per game. On top of which he is averaging 27 points, 7 assists and close to 2 steals and a block a game. And let’s not forget the record he just tied scoring 30+ points in 5 straight games, shooting 60% or better.
As the other superstars in the NBA try to catch up and nip at the ankles of the leagues Alpha Dog (where you at Jon Barry?) The King continues to widen the chasm between him and the rest of the league. And he eats all your cookies (Hi, Kobe.)
Whether you believe in advanced metrics or the eye test it’s fairly obvious LeBron is the best player in the league and it isn’t close.
No conundrum there.