Friday, June 22, 2012

The coronation of LeBron James

"It's about damn time".

The first quote from Lebron James immediately after winning his first NBA championship. He has taken a little bit of heat (pardon the pun) from the "haters" for this comment but when you consider he has been chasing this dream for a long 9 years (note a full 1/3 of his life), this becomes quite understandable. James is only 27 years of age (1 year younger than Michael Jordan was when he won his first NBA title in 1991, he went on to win 6) so it is pretty logical to assume he has the chance to win several more. However, under the "old" LeBron, this was definitely NOT the case. The "new" LeBron? For sure!

From watching several different shows today and listening to various radio programs, there has been a general consensus about the new maturity level of LeBron James. This premise I could not agree with more. Just in the last 12 months LeBron has reinvented himself. He confirmed this last night in one of his 500 or so interviews - "I had to change myself both on the court and off the court". This change has helped him realise his lifelong dream of winning a NBA title.

Every person is unique. No 2 people are the same. Some people take longer than others to "get it", to mature, to understand, to learn about life. I see this with LeBron. It has taken him longer to "get it" and to mature. This has been mostly his fault and somewhat life's fault and others' fault. He did enter the NBA world at just 18 to probably the biggest fanfare and anticipation of any player in NBA history. As John Salley said on ESPN's "First Take" program today - "because of the rise of social media no other athlete has been criticised or scrutinised more in his career". Isn't that the truth?! Listening to the Scott Van Pelt show on ESPN radio today, they (Scott and Ryen Russilo) correctly pointed out that we endlessly talk/debate/analyse LeBron James on a daily basis, week in and week out. What other athletes get this amount of scutiny? That's right, none of them. They get some, particularly during his/her sport's season, but LeBron gets it 24/7, 365 days a year.

Only LeBron knows how this scutinty affects him. In a lot of polls of "most hated athlete" he is usually one of the highest ranked. However he has over 5 million Twitter followers. From his history and behavior, James has struggled with the negative energy. The self-labeling of himself as the "King", the disastrous "The Decision" ESPN TV 1 hour special, to the Miami Heat introduction event where he promised not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7 NBA titles he has made poor decisions and just fed the "haters" with more ammunition. His play has also suffered - he would shrink in the biggest moments, disappear with the game on the line, defer the last shot to his teammates. This happened right up to the loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals last year. But then as he said himself - he took a look in the mirror, and he re-invented himself.

On the court he became a much more complete player, and most importantly a leader of the team. He gave up just taking mindless jump shot after jump shot, trying to hit the 3 pointers, being afraid to go to the rim. He reduced the jump shots, attacked the rim religiously, started making his free throws, he improved his defense (which wasn't that bad anyway) and started guarding the opponent's best player, and he would defend all 5 positions on the court. This is where Dwyane Wade deserves the credit - he changed HIS game to allow for the development of LeBron James. He didn't have to be "Batman" (Skip Bayless term). He embraced the new role and leadership of James. You know the saying: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" - James was a tough player, but only when he wanted to, when he chose it. Now he is the player who gets the tough going, regardless of the time or situation. I commend him for that.

I am neither a LeBron James apologist nor a hater. I do admire him, and I do follow him on Twitter. James as a man is rarely questioned. He seems to be a good father, he hasn't got into trouble off the court, he doesn't say a lot of dumb things. I take that back a little bit - he has said dumb things (see above), but this year he has really cut that out and he has become a much better man because of it. His interviews last night after the win were to me pretty good. Saying winning the NBA title was the "best day of his life" raised some eyebrows - what about your kids? - but I see where he was coming from. With all the criticism, the analysis and the focus he has had for the last 9 years (9 years!) and to achieve this lifelong goal he had been working on - I see his point, and I understand it. He loves his kids (indeed he won custody of them) but this moment was a career moment, a humbling moment.

I am guilty - earlier this NBA playoffs I said on Twitter that Kevin Durant was the best player in the NBA. I am WRONG - LeBron James is the best overall player in the NBA. This is not based on stat's. He set career best numbers in this series for rebounds and assists. Indeed he had his one and only triple-double for the season in the closeout game! He is now mature - last night he told Mario Chalmers to calm down late in the 3rd quarter when he started to showboat and celebrate. Would have he done this last year? Hell no! He changed his game for the betterment of the team. He became a better teammate. He apologised for his mistakes. He became a better man.

It's about damn time!

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