By Joe Darrah
There’s never, and I mean never, been any athlete in any sport in any era who has received more “credit” for what he’s “going to do” than LeBron James.
The self-promoting and media anointed “King” of basketball has been portrayed to us as such long before he was the NBA’s No. 1overall pick, even longer before he ever made his first appearance in an All Star game or the Finals and even longer before he earned an MVP award or won his first championship.
And for as successful as LeBron has been in his nine years of pro ball (two rings, four league MVPs, two Finals MVPs, Rookie of the Year in 2004 and All Star appearances each season), the hard and fast truth is that he’s not yet surpassed any level of credentials held by those before him and he’s likely not going to accomplish all the accolades that his subjects and he himself have predicted and promised. Though it may seem hard to fathom for someone who has not yet reached his 30th birthday, he’s simply running out of time to accomplish the still unfulfilled and downright outlandish “projected” accolades that he will one day have to answer to not earning.
As LeBron once again nears the potential of free agency (with an early-termination option available at season’s end), that day of reckoning may come as soon as this summer, because unless he and his Miami Heat win a third consecutive Finals he will fall at least six championships short of the “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven … [ finally interrupted :/ ]” titles he proclaimed he’d hoist in South Beach during the embarrassing pep rally he took part in during the summer of 2010, just days after his equally embarrassing ESPN’d propaganda-laced Decision.
Yes, despite that it’s now going on four years since he performed his own personal public relations sabotaging and considering how the passage of time seems to have led to repaired feelings (in Cleveland, as they once again collectively try to drum up some semblance of hope that he’ll again play for the Cavs) and even forgetfulness (by some, everywhere else) the arrogance and selfishness of his actions and comments are as ripe in my mind’s eye as they were then and will remain a point of contention for me towards him until the day he retires.
Because I’m holding him to those standards he so irresponsibly and ignorantly said he’d reach. And so should everyone else who’s brave enough to even mention him in comparison to Michael Jordan and/or Kobe Bryant.
In reality, LeBron remains a “Prince” at best among basketball legends of today and yesterday, and when he makes his way into South Philadelphia Friday night for his second appearance here this season and ninth (including postseason games) overall since the often-scoffed-at Decision, he will do so once again not just as the league’s royal box office opponent and reigning MVP but as a villain — one who, for me at least, it’s impossible to root for because, for as great a player as he is, he’s not so good to the game he has for years unbashfully claimed to hold the throne of.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say LeBron is a bad person, at least not in a detriment-to-society way that sadly far too many of our sports stars have proven to be; but aside from being the best player in today’s game he’s also one of the league’s biggest problems as it continues to be a shell of what it once was in terms of style, substance and balanced competition. In a league where flopping has become a sickness, he’s most to blame for spreading the infection. Not just because he participates in it, but because he’s supposed to be an ambassador for the game and the league. Instead, instances like his open-court flop on a Tyson Chandler screen during the first round of the 2012 Eastern Conference Playoffs is a poster presentation for why the NBA has fouls called for such behavior. OK, call him the “King of Flop” if you must call him “King” (hee, hee).
To that end, as the most prominent “face” of the league, he’s not a good example of the ideal sportsman you’d expect any game’s superstars to be. And for as statistically great as he is (yet, let the record show he’s led the league in scoring just once and has never owned the top spot an any major statistical category in one season) and the legacy he’s built as a multiple MVP winner and champion, having played his way out of his once well-deserved reputation as a Finals and fourth-quarter choke, I still see him as one who bailed on his former team despite its attempts to win (albeit failed attempts), one who chose to hitch his star to the coattails of an already established champion (Dwayne Wade and any other player on the roster effectively portrayed as insignificant though at the time some owned more titles than LeBron — and that would have been anyone with at least one) and one who egregiously assumed that he and the Heat would enjoy a history-altering dominance even before the “Big Three” played together or without ever previously validating that he himself had the killer instinct that not only brought the likes of Jordan and Bryant (and many more before him) their success but their admiration. Sorry, but I cannot admire LeBron.
I cannot admire someone who’d conspire with ESPN to make a mockery of the free agent process and hold an ill-advised, uncomfortable press conference at a Connecticut-based Boys and Girls Club to announce he’s “bringing his talents to South Beach” — the audible gasps of dismay from the young crowd are still telling of the event. I can’t admire someone who, in his first season with Miami mocked, like a high schooler trying to deflect away from his big-stage shortcomings, one of his game’s fellow stars in Dirk Nowitzki during the 2011 NBA Finals when the power forward played while sick during the series. I can’t admire someone who refused to shake hands with the team (Orlando Magic) that eliminated him and his former squad from the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. I can’t admire someone who much more recently called 911 because he was stuck in traffic for a Jay Z concert and canoodled his way into an “emergency” police escort to the show. (But at least the offending officer was sent to desk duty thereafter.) And I can’t admire someone who after “apologizing” for his free agency actions and acting as if he enjoyed playing with the bull’s-eye he self-applied to his back, publicly belittled his detractors as a whole after losing the 2011 Finals as if the average person’s life pales to his. It wasn’t a sports-related jab, much as he may try to spin it as such.
Yup, he’s just as much a villain as he is a great player, if not more than. And in just about every town he travels to (basically every place that doesn’t have real hopes that he’ll one day bring his talents to them) NBA fans and players will want to see him be taken down come hell, high waters or even less improved odds of nabbing that golden ping pong ball next spring with an extra win —I’m looking at you, Sixers.
In fairness, I’m not one of those people who try to diminish what he’s actually accomplished, because those people are out there. I’m just one who judges him based on what he has to accomplish to truly earn the “King” status he flaunts — and that includes a seventh ring to pass “His Airness” (apologies to Bill Russell) and at least six at this point to trump Bryant (apologies to Magic Johnson). That’s the criteria, no matter how many points, assists, rebounds, triple-doubles or vampire shirts he collects. We all know that of all the major sports (except maybe rings for NFL quarterbacks) the elite of the NBA are judged based on their championships. He doesn’t get exemption from that, never. Especially when considering his brash attitude. Maybe if he was as fearless on the court as he was for the media cameras he’s deserve from slack. But he’s not and he doesn’t.
So, let’s wait to see what LeBron actually accomplishes before we crown him with any unearned praise. It’s about damn time we judge him solely on the actual, not what “will be.”