After all, I have a bit of angst about hyperbole, and I’d have to guess that of all the major sports, the NBA media feeds the public the most of that.
During the course of the East/West Conference Finals, we’ve regularly been told that whoever won the last game will win the series, if not the whole thing. Don’t look now, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are already a dynasty.
For making the Finals.
Yahoo’s Adrian Adrian Wojnarowski is the most hyperbolic being in the history of both the real universe and all fictional universes that will ever be created, citing armageddon two days ago regarding LeBron James and the Miami Heat, sure to be followed up today with a Homeric ballad to his everlasting greatness.
At some point last night, the ABC/ESPN NBA crew even referenced this extreme opinion fluctuation while in the midst of transitioning from “Heat are done” to “Heat cannot ever be stopped ever” insights. Was that a self-aware jab at themselves or not? It’s hard to tell, and perhaps a topic for another day.
In the course of this hyperbolic analysis, we naturally must break down the psyche of LeBron James to ludicrous proportions. In trying to nail down the source of his inconsistent levels of engagement and intensity, everything from his teammates, to his coaches, to his upbringing, to Dan Gilbert, to the Twitter Era (!?) gets blamed for his mental lapses.
(Side note: I’ve not played one minute of professional basketball in my life, but I hereby objectively state that playing hard/focused while on trial for rape is tougher than playing hard/focused when people are mean to you on Twitter.)
It’s just about playing basketball as hard as you can.
Before I reveal LeBron’s real problem, let me run through a quick trio of things one needs to do in order to be a beloved and respected professional athlete.
These are in a definitive and inflexible order.
1) Work Hard Mix in a healthy dose of “want it on a primal level” here – it’s in the same family. If you absolutely suck but you’re killing yourself to get it done, you’ll be respected by fans and peers alike.
2) Win It’s a cliche, but it solves everything.
3) Be Talented This is a distant, distant, distant third. This does get you attention, fame, and money.
Filter LeBron through those three, and things become a bit more clear on why he’s not beloved, and also why he lapses at times.
The former first. Consider The Decision and teaming up in Miami – with accompanying Free Agent Gala Celebration Rally – and you can see that LeBron basically put those in reverse order.
“Look at how talented and great we are! We haven’t even won anything yet! But, we’re excited because doing that will be easy now!”
So back to the real point. Why does he check out mentally sometimes?
When he did this with the Cavs – starting in November of 2006 – I started an ongoing gag on my old NBA blog that LeBron was easily and often distracted by big movie releases. (He cares not about Prometheus, based on last night.)
Obviously it’s not specifically that, but what if he’s just kind of a supremely talented, gifted, dominant, free-wheeling…flake?
You could sprinkle in that he doesn’t have enough of #1 above to overcome his flakiness, but on a baseline level, I think he just wants things to be fun and breezy, and when they’re not, he gets thrown off.
Aloof and distracted, like Calvin Stadiums.
That makes more sense than some hackneyed theory about the lethal combination of blogs and Facebook, or blaming it on not having a father figure, something HUNDREDS of perfectly focused NBA players manage to play through.
I find Shaq an interesting comparison to LeBron, really. Shaq was pretty much the exact same way – if not worse – but it’s glossed over because he accomplished #2, i.e. he won.
That said, despite his clear dominance and exorbitant talents, Shaq is never mentioned in that very top echelon of NBA players that vie for Greatest Of All Time. His legacy is loaded with caveats, mainly in the form of free throws, fitness issues, and no rebounding titles. (That last one is amazing – at his size, strength, speed, and proximity to the basket, it’s crazy he didn’t get at least one, if just by accident. Rebounding, as we all know, is more about desire than anything.)
There’s little doubt that if Shaq had more of #1, i.e. Hard Work, he could’ve had as many championships as he wanted.
LeBron strikes me much the same way. He’s one of the few players in NBA history that can be so dominant that it seems like he’s the only person on the court. That he doesn’t do that all the time is what frustrates the general basketball fanbase far more than things like The Decision.
Is it fair to criticize greatness for not being even greater? In this case…I think so. He called his shot, all the way back to getting CHOSEN1 tattooed on his back. He has the ability to be the GOAT, he said he wanted to be the GOAT, and all people are asking is he be the GOAT.
In the end, if he somehow solves #2 and just wins something, I do think people will still hate on him*, but at least he’ll get some form of respect, but with caveats. Hopefully hyperbole-free caveats, but that’s doubtful.
*I find it interesting that despite the media’s best efforts to spin the narrative to “it’s cool to root for LeBron now”, based on what I see online, people still revel in watching him lose as much as ever.