Originally published in SLAM 78

The 6th Man: I want to try something new here. I want to eliminate the hate and jealousy entirely-or at least for the next few hundred words. Are you with me? Good.

Let’s talk about LeBron James for a second. (Again? I know. But stay with me.) In his short time in the NBA, he’s already become the youngest player in League history to score 1,000 points. He’s also become the youngest player to get three SLAM covers. And, of course, the letters roll in. Most of them are positive, but there are the usual batch that complain about his arrogance. His being overrated. His not being as good as (fill in name here). Or best of all, his having “no talent.” This in and of itself can be seen as an accomplishment, as we’ve received similar letters about Shaq, AI and even Jordan over the years. And quite frankly, I’ve had about enough. So how about this-don’t hate the player or the game.

Look at the reality of the situation: Here’s a kid who signed $100 million plus in guaranteed contracts before ever stepping onto an NBA court, and he still puts forth the effort of a 10th grader trying to make the varsity. He was the most celebrated athlete in Ohio history by the age of 18, and undoubtedly the most talented player on the Cavs roster the second he got drafted, but he still waited to take over until he had earned the team’s trust and respect. Through early March, he was on pace to average 20, 5 and 5 as a rookie-only the Big O and Mike have done that-and his team is in the playoff race. And, for some, it’s still not enough.

How about this: LeBron James is underrated. How do you like that? Not to take anything away from Carmelo Anthony (or Magic, Mike, Wilt and Oscar), but LeBron might just be the best rookie in NBA history. Are the Cavs going to win the championship this year? No, barring a miracle of Mel Gibsonesque proportions. But for someone to come from high school, with all that pressure, o do what LeBron has done? Whoa.

Let the letters come.


Russ Bengtson

PS: Since I’m an idiot (ask anyone around here), I made two huge omissions in my thank-yous last issue. So to Spiro Maroulis and Stanley Harris, my bad, and thanks for everything.

SLAM 78 LeBron James