Welcome to the NBA Wonder Years.
Brought to you by LeBron King James, Self-Annointed Chosen One, His Royal Decider.
Today marks the end of the NBA as we know it. Michael Jordan’s legacy is now securely encased in carbonite. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird have given their blessing. It’s a day we all saw coming for over a decade.
LeBron James has claimed his throne.
Now his detractors will have to get more creative. Gone are all the opportunities to call him ringless. LeBron got his. Just as the immense decade of hype promised. We’ve seen highly touted stars more often miss the mark than hit it. Which makes LeBron’s feat all the more impressive.
It’s time for the world to think of LeBron differently now. At first we demanded a Jordan replica to fill the void that his Airness left. When LeBron showed he didn’t have the identical tougne wagging swagger, we were collectively let down and shifted our attention to Kobe who has seemed to make a career out of modeling his game after Jordan.
But LeBron’s game was elusive. Tough to pin down in a single mold. He was a freak of nature who could leap tall buildings, yet also seemed perfectly at ease dishing the ball in the final seconds. And was called a cop out for it. Was he Jordan or was he Magic? We needed an exact legend equation to understand his unique gift.
As I watched King James hoist his Larry O’Brien trophy, I considered that maybe we should simply be enjoying this. Were we disappointed that Michael didn’t dominate with the same Showtime flair as Magic? Were we okay with Larry Bird being the Hick from French Lick, a previously unknown brand of basketballer?
Just because the NBA has been in the collective consciousness for several decades now, doesn’t mean that history is going to ever repeat itself. There will be new types of superstars. There will be point guards who achieve iconic status by being nothing like Magic Johnson. Superstars will find ways to carry their teams to titles in ways we haven’t seen before. We are now starting to see LeBron dominate the league in his own way. We haven’t found a perfect way to describe it yet, but we better get on that.
For me, LeBron’s game might be considered what we call in baseball, a five-tool player. The rare superstar who has the gene to excel in every category his sport demands. LeBron can score on anyone, at any time. Check. He has a sixth sense court awareness that earns him high numbers of assists. He can out rebound anyone on the floor. And he has the intangible ‘coolest guy in the locker room vibe.’ You can tangibly feel his aura. Just watch how his teammates react to him, or how they talk about in him interviews. See how they gush with respect. Not in an awkward, I have to do this way, but in a ‘that guy is a basketball alien sent to destroy us all’ kind of reverence. Heck, even watch how LeBron is the social center of attention when the All Stars gather, or the Olympic team even.
For the first time since Jordan (sorry Kobe), we have the best basketball player on the planet winning a championship. He’s hungry, he’s in his prime, and he somehow, still has room for improvement. Look at how much LeBron keeps adding to his game. That’s something that the great ones have always done. Kobe, the current Godfather of the NBA linked that legacy between the 90s and today, and thankfully it’s considered cool to practice again. There was a brief post-Jordan moment when the NBA turned into a glorified version of the And1 circuit. Guys like Latrell Spreewell, JR Rider, Rasheed Wallace and others would famously loaf through practice, only to let their instinct and raw talent out when the arena lights turned on on game day. That made for amazing highlight tapes, but you felt a tangible disrespect for the game between the lines.
Now, the three best players in the league are notorious gym rats. Kobe wakes up at three am to get his work in. Kevin Durant stays in the gym after the game to refine his already perfect touch. And LeBron James, the King of them all sets up grueling workouts for himself with Hakeem Olajuwan in the summer and trains each part of his game with workman like efficiency. The game comes easily to these guys, but they are championing a work ethic that will trickle down to all levels of the game and inspire intense hustle and sacrifice. LeBron’s example will make basketball better. Just watch.
Is LeBron perfect? Hell no. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tune in and respect what he is doing on the basketball court. He is playing the game the right way, with his own power twists. He is loved by his teammates and is only going to improve.
We haven’t had a champion like this in the NBA in a long time.
All hail the King.Tweet