This All Feels Familiar
The basketball world is talking about LeBron the way it once spoke of Dirk. Look at him now.
by Allen Powell II
There is this guy. You know his name; I don’t have to say it. He’s choked in big moments, faded when his team needed him most, and apparently loses his confidence when any little thing goes wrong.
He’s been hailed as the evolution of basketball, someone who is destined to change the game, and at times it’s like he can’t stand the pressure. He’s made questionable statements to the press that reveal either an incredible naiveté or an innate weakness that is appalling in one of the 10 best players in the world. Remember when he admitted to being nervous during a game? Or when an opponent deigned to give him a love tap on the cheek followed by a taunting smirk?
That’s right; I’d like you to meet Dirk Nowitzki.
Wait, you thought I was talking about that other guy? The incredible physical specimen whose mental makeup has been deemed severely lacking by basketball fans across the country? The guy who scrambled to assemble a super team because he just couldn’t hack it on his own? That guy? Sorry to disappoint you, but I’d rather tell a different story.
It’s a story of redemption that features a cast of detractors who have now magically morphed into fawning sycophants. It’s a tale of perseverance where the protagonist endures being the butt of countless jokes, and is condemned as the epitome of everything wrong with “those kinds of players.”
It’s the story of a man who reminded the sporting world that snap judgments are often wrong, even as that same sporting world was consumed with making even more grandiose pronouncements about another player.
Let’s talk about the Diggler.
Once hated, now beloved, nobody understands the fickle nature of the NBA better than Dirk. You want to talk about premature praise, how about being hailed as the next Larry Bird before you’ve even averaged 25 points per game? You want to talk about nadirs? Consider having to deliver your MVP acceptance speech in a suit and tie because your 67-win team just got bounced from the postseason by a Golden State Warriors squad more easily suited to the Rucker summer league than the NBA Playoffs.
Think about how it feels to watch your closest friends shipped out of town where they find success and happiness while you’re confined to some sort of basketball purgatory where you’re always good, but never quite good enough. How about constantly making little improvements to your game only to have that hard work ignored because you lack the team success that validates every player?
On second thought, nein, don’t think about that at all. Thinking about that would require a level of introspection foreign to many fans.
Dirk reached the pinnacle of his profession on Sunday and in doing so he vanquished the most hated team in America. He and his band of castoffs and retreads decisively defeated the man crowned the Once and Future King. America rejoices in his conquest of the now supposedly naked emperor.
Many will characterize the 2011 Finals as The Championship that LeBron James Lost, but true basketball aficionados recognize that title minimizes that amazing performances of all of the Mavericks who did everything it took to win.
But, as asinine analysts and gloating fans turn their attention to pop psychology and blind hatred while debating LeBron’s place in NBA history, there is insight to be gleaned from examining the journey of the League’s German wunderkind. The transformation of Dirk is both a cautionary tale, and a blueprint for success.
For media and fans, Dirk’s journey should remind us that we rarely know as much as we think we know. Our pronouncements about players’ “hearts” are often ill-conceived rantings. Our predictions about their final legacies are even more pitiful. Just like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant missed far more game winners than they made in their careers, so have we fans been wrong far more often than we’ve been right.
Very few people believed that Dirk would ever be a champion. Even fewer thought he had the testicles and skills to overcome hardship. Yet here he stands as the leader of the best team in the NBA.
For LeBron, Dirk’s success should show him how to conduct his business moving forward. It’s time to concentrate on erasing the weaknesses that others seek to exploit. It’s time to put away those grandiose plans to be a worldwide “brand” and concentrate on becoming the best basketball player he can be. A dependable post game should be first on the checklist, followed by a jumper that he never loses confidence in again.
Moreover, James needs to upgrade the cliché filter in his brain and learn that revealing what’s in your heart to the American media is only a good idea if the media agrees with you. Otherwise, it’s an open invitation to be mocked and demeaned.
Quite simply, it’s time to get serious. Now is the moment when LeBron either begins the difficult journey to the mountaintop after taking a good hard look at what he’s lacking, or stumbles along the more widely traveled path to squandered NBA potential due to a combination of stubbornness and idiocy.
Many have written the epitaph of LeBron’s career, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned this year it’s that only players control their destinies. A certain German sharpshooter taught us that we’re all just witnesses along for the ride.
And what a ride it’s been.