Deeper Than A Bad Rap
What LeBron James really needs to ascend the throne of basketball royalty.
by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
This might be the realest sh*t I ever wrote…
It’s so easy to rail on LeBron James. He’s such an easy target. When you sit atop the totem pole, you’re not hard to find. There’s nowhere to hide. Some take pleasure in writing disparaging things about him, while others take pleasure in being an ‘I told you so’. But in looking at the bigger picture, his failures and his shortcomings aren’t entirely of his own doing. The problem is much bigger. Much deeper.
Ask yourself this question. How can you do better if you don’t know better?
I’ve heard people say that LeBron James doesn’t have his Scottie Pippen; that elite level sidekick that makes the job of being a superstar and the face of a franchise that much easier. While that may be true, LeBron James doesn’t really need a Scottie Pippen. That Cleveland team had more than enough talent to not only be competitive, but to potentially win a championship. No, what LeBron needs is a Phil Jackson.
Before PJax took over in Chicago, like LeBron, Michael Jordan was just a great individual player putting up ridiculous numbers and giving you jaw-dropping highlights every night. The same thing with Kobe and Shaq before he arrived in sunny California. I’m not saying that LeBron specifically needs Phil Jackson to get him over the hump, but he needs a strong coach who’s going to challenge him to be great. A coach who’s going to hold him accountable when he falters and not back down from him or dance around the issue for fear of upsetting him. A coach who’s going to push him to reach those high standards that he says he has for himself; the same high standards that everybody else has for him. Phil did that for every player he coached, from the best to the worst. People who have greatness in them don’t always instinctively know how to bring it out. They need someone else to bring it out of them and then show them how to use it.
LeBron James has all of the physical tools. He has all of the gifts, talent, and ability. He is unlike any basketball player we’ve ever seen. So how does a guy who has everything skill and talent wise, accomplish so very little? Well, in seven years in the NBA, from a basketball standpoint he’s never truly been developed fundamentally or mentally. He’s never been pushed and he’s never been challenged. By anyone. Mike Brown never had control of that team, LeBron did. Like everyone else in that organization–and Cuyahoga County for that matter–they all looked for LeBron to lead them and at the end of the day, he just didn’t know how.
Sure he’s gotten bigger and stronger and added a half-court jumpshot to his arsenal, but his basketball fundamentals are abysmal and that’s where true confidence comes from in a player. When the Celtics took away what it is that he does best— which is get to the basket or knock down the long jumper—he had nothing else to fall back on. He couldn’t take his man in the post and he couldn’t hit those one and two dribble, mid-range pull ups either. That’s where the game becomes a mental challenge. That’s where guys become shook and the moment and the pressure becomes too much to handle and you see players fold.
A lot of it has to do with him not taking his craft as seriously as say, Kobe Bryant, whose character is often questioned, but never his work ethic or his undying commitment to being the best. As I write this, Kobe Bryant has already gotten his work in for the day. We were probably all sleeping too. But it’s a daily ritual for him.
I don’t want to be sucked into a Kobe vs. LeBron debate because it’s not about that. But whether you like him or not, agree or disagree, like Michael Jordan in his day, Kobe Bryant is the standard by which all players of this era are judged, including LeBron James who has more God-given ability than Kobe ever had. But what he doesn’t have is Kobe’s drive and the reason he doesn’t have it is because nobody’s held him accountable for not having it. You can’t just pay lip-service to being the best, you’ve got to put in the work and nobody’s gotten in his face about it. It seems like everyone is so afraid to say anything.
The beauty of it all is that it’s still not too late for LeBron to turn things around. All of his deficiencies can be corrected, he just has to be willing to put in the time and the work and as advanced as he is, he could do it relatively quickly and not at the expense of the things he already does well. It won’t be easy and it’s going to require a lot of breaking down and rebuilding, but it’s doable. But simply just assuming that to fix the problem you need to surround LeBron James with more talent or that he needs to change teams isn’t the answer to anything. It’ll still be more of the same if he doesn’t strengthen the parts of the game he’s weak in. That will come from good coaching, but it’s on him too. He has to want to work and he has to want to be coached. To reach the mountaintop, that’s what it’s going to take.
There are no shortcuts.