Actually, blame society. Yeah, you know who you are…
In an age of knee-jerk punditry and instant history, we’re supposed to swallow the worst in an athlete even before the corpse of a season grows cold. In this case, because the Boston Celtics are a better team than the Cleveland Cavaliers and knocked them out of the playoffs in six games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last night, that whole “LeBron James is a loser who is leaving Cleveland” stuff is flying around like dandelion spores in a wind tunnel.
Oh yes, based on Cleveland’s early ouster, LeBron’s entire basketball legacy—and maybe even his worth as a human being—has been defined by a bunch of nonsense. Sure, the fact is LeBron James has not won an NBA title. However, to label him as a fraud, loser or worse, not only lacks perspective or responsibility, but it’s also plain stupid.
Again, you know who you are.
Nevertheless, here we are. This is an age in sports where the only thing that matters (after the endorsements and salary digits, of course) is the number of championships one has. Sure, there is plenty of weight to that premise and it’s fair to rate Bill Russell higher than Wilt Chamberlain because of the number of championships won. But that’s as far as it goes.
See, winning championships in sports is not a singular activity. There’s a whole bunch that goes into it and that doesn’t even include the uncontrollable forces. Luck and timing is huge. In fact, there are teams that won championships by accident. For instance, look at the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, the 2003 Florida Marlins or the 1994/1995 Houston Rockets. Don’t forget about the 1978 Washington Bullets, either.
So don’t go labeling LeBron a fraud or loser just because his teams haven’t been good enough. The same thing goes for Ernie Banks, Ted Williams, Dan Marino, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Ty Cobb, Barry Sanders, Elgin Baylor or Dick Butkus.
Sometimes it’s not all about one guy. Other times, believe it or not, it takes a team to win a championship. So LeBron hasn’t won a title yet… big deal. The fact is he has just completed his seventh season in the NBA and is just 25 years old. He has two MVP Awards, two All-Star Game MVPs, a scoring title, two Olympic medals and one Finals appearance.
What did you have at age 25? Debt? An inflated sense of entitlement and worth? A clue?
Answers: Yes, yes, no.
Throughout his life James has often been compared to Michael Jordan. Hell, they both even wore/wear No. 23 on the court. So what was Michael Jordan doing at age 25? By that point he was five years into his NBA career with one MVP Award and one trip past the second round of the playoffs. Take away the endorsement deals, the scoring titles and the Olympic medal and there wasn’t much to Jordan’s career at the same age as James.
And yet no one called Jordan a fraud or a loser. Far from it. People saw that Jordan was coached by Doug Collins on a team in which tired, old Dave Corzine, Orlando Woolridge and Brad Sellers got tons of minutes and realized changes had to happen. When Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen and Bill Cartwright finally emerged, it all started to come together.
So why isn’t it the same with LeBron? Mike Brown is his coach, a guy whose main job seems to be telling his players what time the next game starts. Somehow the Cavs made it to the Finals in 2007 with a team where James was complimented with the likes of Larry Hughes, Anderson Varejao, Drew Gooden and (gasp!) Eric Snow. The top man off the bench was Donyell Marshall.
Yep… anyone want to reexamine James’ body of work now?
Obviously something has to give for James and whether that happens for him in Cleveland, New York, Chicago or Los Angeles is the great unknown. But make no mistake about it… James isn’t going to win a title until he’s surrounded by the right players. No one expected Barkley to win it all with Hersey Hawkins or Armon Gillam, did they? Why is so much expected from James?