By David Wilson
I dislike chopping young athletes, dissecting their young game, dicing their every move, on and off their chosen arena, filleting them to see if they really have heart. But in the case of the one known as King James, or LBJ – and we’re not talkin’ Lyndon Baines – I feel compelled to publicly express what I perceive.
First off, I call him “Bron Bron” because his game all too often reminds me of that Flinstone baby, “Bam Bam.” Bron Bron gets the ball on the wing, jab steps with that little duck-in move he does designed to get the soon-to-be helpless defender on his hip. The first step thereafter is devastating. The defender that was, is no more. Bron Bron’s 6’8″ 2-hundred and what, 45, 50, 60(?)-pound frame proceeds to the hoop with such force that the wind wake formed behind him becomes a vacuum. And anything near it immediately loses all internal liquid and is left shrivelled and quivering on the hardwood. In front of Bron Bron the human sea, sensing the impending doom of a confrontation with this force – parts like short hair about to be hit with #1 clippers. Bron Bron dribbles twice, switches to his right hand and – there’s silence. Then… BOOM! Everybody ducks. His players, their players, the photographers on the floor, the ref positioned on the baseline. Even the waiters serving the peeps with the good seats right behind the backboard grab their trays with their off hand for added stability. It’s beautiful to watch – and a little scary.
However, there’s another side to Bron Bron as a pro. There’s the side that began before he turned NBA. James was “King James” in high school. LBJ had a nothin’ one day and a pimped-out Hummer the next. LeBron flaunted his coming NBA-ism to his local school board, forcing their hand because of the magically-appearing Hummer and the proliference of very expensive throwback jerseys; they allowed James to play the remainder of the season. Sure it might have been within the rules to let him finish the season. But it was also a show of power by James. Bron Bron could have said, “Mom, just get me a nice rental and as soon as the season is over I’ll get a Hummer.” He didn’t have to flaunt his coming riches (which were then in the form of a loan on his looming NBA-ism). James, like an old Hollywood pro, purposely put himself and kept himself in the national spotlight with these actions, all while still in high school.
In May of 2003, before his graduation, James inked a seven-year deal with Nike for $90 mil and was lauded as the second coming. I have no problem with the young man gettin’ his at any point in life. Just know that when you hit the floor that first season, every player you face is wanting to take a piece of you to pin up in their locker.
We all knew Bron Bron’s first couple of seasons would be a time of transition. He had to learn the NBA game, acclimatise himself to the travel, the lifestyle, dealing with older, but less talented teammates, and the constant comparisons with fellow rookie, Carmelo Anthony.
LeBron’s second season, last season, was to be his coming out party. On paper, it looked that way. The Cavs won all the close games against the Wizards, as James took and hit seemingly every meaningful shot in the series. Cleveland came back from the 0-2 dead and took the mighty Pistons to seven, right? But this season some disturbing trends hover over the Cavs and LeBron James.
Cleveland’s record is, at present, 9-6, which doesn’t look good in the Eastern Conference as only five of 30 teams in the East have records over .500. What makes the 9-6 mark especially disturbing is the fact that in eight of the Cavs 15 games they’ve led going into the fourth quarter and blown those leads. Five of the six Cavs’ losses are the result of blowing third quarter leads.
Who Cleveland has lost to is equally disturbing. The list looks like this: Washington, 5-9 (though the Wiz should come around in the coming month); Charlotte, 4-11; Atlanta, 6-7; Toronto, 6-10; New York, 6-11. Cleveland has lost to one team, Indiana, at 9-7, with a winning record.
Apologists for Bron Bron say what more can LBJ do? He leads the team in scoring (27.5 ppg), assists (6.7 apg), and steals (1.7 spg). The stats are gaudy to be sure, but they mean nothing if the team can’t hold a 4th quarter lead, particularly against inferior opposition.
So what’s up with Cleveland and LeBron? What’s up is that LeBron James, for all the pub, all the props, all the endorsement monies, and all the bluster, has never been a leader. He’s been the best player, but never has King James been a leader. You never see the look in LeBron’s eyes that you do in Kobe Bryant’s eyes or Dwyane Wade’s eyes when the game is tight and the team isn’t functioning all that well. With Kobe and D-Wade, when you see that look, everybody knows what about to happen: they are about to do anything, anything to will their team to a win. They will cajole, encourage, grit on, and evil eye teammates depending on what the teammate needs to know that it’s winnin’ time, time to get aboard my ship and contribute, or get on my back and I’ll carry you across the finish line.
With King James you see him scowl. You see LBJ squinch his face. You see LBJ look concerned. Trouble is, they’re all – looks. These faces are poses, meaningless facial expressions that make it appear that LeBron is ’bout his biz now. The results, the losses, say the expressions aren’t real. It’s like these facial expressions are what he saw as a kid watching the NBA and now here he is on the same stage – here he is at the same time in the game, and – ‘what did Mike do when it was real late in the 4th quarter and the Bulls were down? Oh yeah, he made that face – let me do that.’ It’s as if all he can do is provide us and his teammates with the appearance of being fully engaged in the intensity of the moment, so he mimics those faces for the only things that matter – the cameras trained on his every move.
LeBron James, at least right now, is a mirror for all that we are as the kingpin of Western society. Bron Bron isn’t truly a “star” athlete, he is the image of a star athlete. King James isn’t the arrival of the 21st century MJ. He is the image of the arrival of the 21st century MJ. And so LeBron – King – James is the unwitting manifestation for the “reality” in which we, collectively, imagine ourselves to live.
You can read more of David’s articles by checking out Sports on my Mind.