The anger that I devoted a five-part series to has been subsiding recently. In fact, it’s almost completely gone.
That’s because a funny thing happened on the way to the King’s Corronation… people finally started to realize that King James didn’t deserve the crown. And once that happened, I had nothing left to be angry about.
Basketball fans everywhere are talking about LeBron these days. The conversation is all over the internets and the sports radio airwaves. I’ve been following it intensely, and, while I generally agree with most of what I’m hearing, I think people are missing the point. Have no fear, Tweener is here to set the record straight…
First, some context. When people talk about the best basketball players of all time, there is a ceiling on how high a guy who never led his team to a title can go. Because of that, no serious basketball fan will rank Barkley, Malone, Stockton, or Ewing among the top-10 ever. To crack the top 10, or even the top 15, a player needs a ring.
The reason why a player needs a ring to crack the Upper Level is that people – correctly, I believe – recognize that the ability to lead a team to a championship is something that very few players have. Those who have put that feather in their cap have obtained the most impressive credential for a basketball great to acquire.
The mere notion that a Guy Who Might Be King could run to a team that already had a superstar with that feather in his cap, and somehow validate himself by “winning a championship” on that guy’s team sent me into a tizzy. To even think that it was possible for a guy to “validate” himself in such a cowardly fashion is to undermine the very essence of basketball greatness. As I watched the Heat march through the early rounds of the playoffs, and heard multiple people say that LeBron was inching closer to “validating” himself as one of the all-time greats, my head spun.
As I blogged in December of 2009, long before hoopservations.com took over the internet (ahem), one of the reasons why I felt that LeBron was overrated was that Bill Simmons – a widely-respected basketball maven – actually undertook the effort to rank the top players of all time, and put LeBron – who had only played 6 seasons at the time – at #20. The implication seemed to be that if this amazingly-talented youngster simply kept doing what he was doing, he was well on his way to landing in the top 10, or even top 5, or perhaps even on The Throne. Why didn’t LeBron have to lead a team to a championship in order to deserve that kind of credit? I had no idea.
More recently, hearing knowledgeable people talk as if a Heat championship would put LeBron in the Upper Level — without considering the possibility that Wade deserved to be ranked ahead of him — tormented my basketball-loving soul.
Well, that’s water under the bridge now. Since the last time I wrote, the lights got brighter. The pressure got more intense. Dirk stepped up for the Mavs, and has been brilliant. Wade stepped up for the Heat, and has demonstrated himself to be the team’s leader. And, most importantly, PEOPLE HAVE TAKEN NOTICE. The Guy Who Might Be King has games where he just blends into the scenery, and the basketball universe is responding as if the wool has been pulled over its eyes for the past 8 years.
Even Bill Simmons, he of the top-20 ranking for LeBron a few years ago, now acknowledges that the Heat is Wade’s team. Checka, checka, check out what Simmons is saying now:
If you watched Games 3 and 4 in person, you knew Miami belonged to Dwyane Wade. That was the hardest thing to shake. We made so much fuss about LeBron these past two years and he’s not even the most important dude on his own team.
Amen. I’m glad you’ve seen the light, Bill. Wish I could take some credit for showing you what you had been missing, but only 8 people read my blog, so I highly doubt that I had anything to do with it.
Of course, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. I don’t know what’s gonna happen later. For all I know, LeBron will put up 35-15-12 over each of the next two games, and the Heat will win the title. But I know this… In any given came, LeBron might do something that neither Michael nor Magic nor Larry nor Wilt could do. He’s simply that talented. It’s also true that, in any given game, LeBron might do something that neither Michael nor Magic nor Larry nor Wilt would do, like disappear completely when his team needs him most. He’s simply that inconsistent. When it comes to the ability to rise to the moment when the pressure is highest — sometimes called “killer instinct,” sometimes called “greatness,” and sometimes called “leadership” — LeBron simply can’t compare to the guys in the Upper Level.
As this is probably my last posting of the 2011 season, I’ll close by saying… Go Mavs. Well, sort of. I don’t really care anymore. No matter what happens in the rest of the series, I’ll head into the off-season knowing that my sport is going to be ok. (Unless, of course, LeBron puts up two big games, and people forget how often he needed to be carried by Wade. If that happens, the rants will re-commence.)