More Like Magic
LeBron has found his comfort zone.
By Chris Deaton
Let’s cast this aside quickly: Yes, LeBron behaved like a world-class whack-off Thursday night. But what we “witnessed” DESERVES SO MUCH MORE than a mocking set of ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” “. There was a decision behind The Decision; for all of his alarmingly soulless talk about business, the man who chose not to be king is still driven by ball.
Quit is a loaded word. I suppose it’s the apt descriptor for ‘Bron’s (C)avalier end — from the Boston series to a needy town’s B&G Club — because he didn’t walk out dressed in a warrior’s sash, but a white flag.
I’m unsure we’ve accurately pegged the why.
A consensus answer has something to do with his lack of care or passion. He wasn’t inclined to post 40-10-10 just to inch one win closer to … the East finals. His coach was unimaginative. His ‘mates were duds, because he wouldn’t make them better, or he couldn’t make them better — or they couldn’t be made better. He didn’t want to lead. He didn’t want the grind; he wanted to be the kid who moves to Hollywood and says, “I’m going to be a movie star,” instead of the one who says, “I’m going to be a great actor.”
There are, perhaps, at least shreds of truth to all — but that’s the biased, scornful view. LeBron must be more complicated than that. Who sleepwalks to a career 28, 7 and 7; who stumbles into two MVPs; who scores his team’s final 25 of a 2OT, conference final Game 5 on the road and doesn’t have fire? “Did you know you were this good?” Sager asked during that Cavs/Pistons postgame.
Speaking of loaded words …
That was one, despite the moment’s levity: the way in which LeBron backed from the mic and chuckled. Aw, shucks. He was bashful and gracious, maybe because he didn’t know his ceiling. But he knew from that night forward — and he called it a blessing then. He implied that it was a curse Thursday.
One of my mentors, the cheery and candid Alan Solomon, a former travel writer for the Chicago Tribune, once told me that greatness is doing great over and over — and those with the potential who fall short are afraid of the repetition. Where does LeBron fit? He’s shown he can be The Man: the vaunted-, do-it-all-, inside-outside-, defense-to-offense-type player who is expected to affect all phases during all minutes of a game. But The Man wins in November as he wins in June. LeBron’s pursuit of that moniker has seen him to only one, unceremonious Finals.
So maybe his confidence is shaken. Or maybe he’s grown leery of the idea that has he to do it like Michael did.
Or maybe he thinks his greatness should be scaled back in order for him to succeed. Peyton Manning threw 49 touchdowns in a season but didn’t capture a Super Bowl until he managed games, his team pounded the rock and his defense stepped up. Joba Chamberlain can hurl it a hundie, but that doesn’t mean he’s best used as a starter. Kobe scored 81, but the Lakers are at their best when he shoots smart, not in bunches.
Economically speaking, call it a comparative advantage. LeBron can do most anything better than anyone. But a lot of teams have scorers — and now he joins two in Miami. Not every roster has a primary ball-handler with practically omnidirectional vision — and now he can be that guy in Miami. Every club needs guys to fill specific roles both big and small — and now LeBron may have found his place in Miami. Miami — and LeBron, really — lose little if he ceases to be a points-filler. Both gain everything if he uses his unique skills to the max.
And that’s why he was never destined to be heir to The Throne of Jordan, but to follow in another’s magical footsteps.
After the Cs swatted the Cavs, I figured that LeBron had become the NBA’s most incorrectly categorized and misused player.
For the first, I blamed the media: the “Kobe vs. James for successor to Michael” debate was a standardized test’s “Which one doesn’t belong?” problem, because KOBE : MICHAEL : : LEBRON : SOMETHING WE’VE NEVER SEEN. For the second …
Cleveland’s management built its roster so that LeBron would frequently play off the ball. And on a team that lacked playmakers, that meant LeBron would languish on the perimeter for crippling stretches. He was tempted to be trigger-happy when his jump shot was the weakest part of his offensive game. He could’ve flown with the rock around the floor; owned properties on every part of the court. But he was grounded in his inconvenient home at the corner of Three Point Line and Wing Place.
It wasn’t ever about a lack of talent these last couple of years with the Cavs. Some chided their front office for pursuing names and not complementary pieces: for example, that Shaq and ‘Tawn weren’t solutions but straws, and team officials grasped at them desperately.
I couldn’t ever buy the argument.
Mo Williams, for as much shit as he gets, was an All-Star in 2009; Jamison, a career 20 and 8, was an All-Star in 2008. There was no lack of shooting: Bron played with Boobie (.423 career from 3), Parker (.415), Mo (.396) and Delonte (.373). Cleveland has the energy guy in Varejao. Shaq and Z, though nearing decrepit derivations of their All-Star forms, are at least serviceable, space-eating and experienced. The Cavs took 127 of their last 164 regular season games.
LeBron didn’t need his Pippen or Pau — he already had enough support. He simply needed to be better as The Man. And he wasn’t. Is it possible that LeBron agrees? Sure. That’s why his flight to South Beach is both panicked and a tacit acknowledgment that, right now, LeBron James isn’t comfortable with being the LeBron James everyone expects him to be.
There have surely been others who have muttered as much, whether in private, print or broadcast, but I’ve not seen anyone put it quite so appropriately as SI’s Ian Thomsen did last year:
It is no easy thing to compare James to one player because he does so many things at a high level. But in his approach he is closest to Magic. LeBron views himself as a creative playmaker more so than a finisher. In terms of height, passing skills and vision for the game, he is his generation’s Magic. Those attributes are augmented by athleticism and scoring skills that Magic neither had nor needed (italics mine) on his great Lakers teams.
LeBron wants to undergo a reinvention. In the process, he’ll feature his truly rare talents and render the jack-of-all trades trait of his game a luxury and not a necessity to his team. That may have been his destiny all along.
He might not become Earvin v2.0 — but the try could give his career new meaning. Most importantly, as we peer past his image crisis and the burning jerseys in Cleveland and the perception that he forfeited his competitive spirit, he has an opportunity to be himself –
An opportunity to play like he was meant to play.