Somebody forgot to tell LeBron James he’s not supposed to be this great. Evidently James must have missed that memo. Greatness is up always up for interpretation. In the case of James, winner of three NBA Most Valuable Player awards, including this season’s honor, that degree of greatness has been well-chronicled through the media. It’s pretty much a cemented fact now.
If there were any more haters out there who doubted the extent or the credibility about James being the best player in the NBA, they should get a copy of the recent six-game Eastern Conference semifinals series between the Miami Heat and the bombastic trash-talking Indiana Pacers.
After witnessing James abuse his wannabe counterpart Danny Granger and his teammates with his in-your-grill relentless-style defense and commanding thunderous play on the other side of the ball, it’s hard not to see No. 6 not making anyone a believer. Initially, I was one of those non-believers.
I didn’t get the hype. I didn’t buy into all of the media fondling of James when he was just a prep star before he left high school to go straight to the NBA. I still wasn’t sold on the 6-foot-8, 250 pound James when he single-handily morphed a wretched Cleveland Cavaliers team into NBA title contenders almost overnight.
I’ve have had my own reservations about just how good James is as a superstar baller on the level of a Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Oscar Roberson, Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor or a Bill Russell.
These players were more just top-tier basketball players hooping their way into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. These players were bonafide game-changers. In the case of Bryant, he’s still doing his thing on the court.
I grew up watching the 6-foot-9 Johnson masterfully dominate the post against much smaller point guards and then seamlessly operate a fastbreak as if he was a gazelle running in the wind. In comparison, James, on the other hand, seems to resemble a burly rhino with his bull-rush, search and destroy drives to the basket than he does as a fleet-footed deer.
But in the eyes of many this is precisely what makes James the mercurial player he is. James is built like a truck with enough shiftiness and speed to track and run down the gazelles of the NBA. Coming from the projects in Akron, Ohio, James exhibits on the court a demeanor that reflects the toughness the school of hard knocks has taught him.
He plays with a mean streak at times, an attribute that is sometimes necessary when going up against the likes of a Dwight Howard or Kevin Garnett.
After seeing countless tapes of all the old-school players like a George Gervin, Julius “Dr. J.” Erving, Artis Gilmore, Jerry West and Bob Cousy, I’ve wondered aloud to myself exactly what makes James so doggone special? I have asked myself repeatedly if his stature in basketball lore is more the result of the driving media crush or because of his extraordinary skills? It’s probably a little bit of both.
All of the platitudes and superlatives heaped upon James by my fellow media pundits were, in my opinion, over the top at times. But now I get it. After coming up short in his second title quest when the Heat lost six games to the Dallas Mavericks last season, James has played like a man on a mission this year.
As he exhibited during the regular season and through the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs, James is playing his opponents without mercy. He’s kicking butt, taking names and asking questions later. Granger and the Pacers can probably attest to that.
After taking a 2-1 series lead, Granger and his Pacers’ teammates got too cocky for their own good, openly challenging James and fellow superstar Dwayne Wade as if this was an old-school shootout duel in the Wild, Wild West.
What Granger and the Pacers did was unleash the beast and fierce determination burning within James and Wade. Wade, of course, was usual lethal self the rest of the series, including dropping 41 points and gathering 10 rebounds in the series-clinching game in Indiana.
But it was James who set the tone of how the outcome of the series was going to turn out, whether it was pulling down 18 points in Miami’s Game 4 win on the road or executing his brilliant all-around play in Game 6 that quietly supported Wade’s spectacular performance. As I watched the progress of this particular series play itself out, I learned that this is what makes James so special.