By Nick Steblenko
We are all motivated by a keen desire for praise, and the better a man is, the more he is inspired to glory.
Some may call it a gift. Others, a curse. Either way, LeBron James and his God-given talent have taken the NBA on a roller coaster ride for the last 10 years. Last night, he became the youngest player to ever reach 20,000 points in a career when the Heat beat the Warriors in Oakland.
Many writers and fans alike are applauding James on his accomplishment today. The man who was anointed “King” before he was even a champion. The young kid from Akron, Ohio who, for better or worse, has been the centrifuge of the sports media for the last decade. One might think in a thousand years that we treated this gifted athlete as the second coming of Christ himself.
With all the fame and fortune James has been handed, he has also worked very hard to get to the point he is at right now. Make no mistake, no matter what anyone says or writes about him, he is the most gifted athletic talent in professional sports today. Yet, no matter how you look at it, when all is said and done, how should we, the public, view this deity?
James was recently named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated, just one of many awards that will undoubtedly be dished out over the course of his career. By the end he will most likely have more hardware than Home Depot and much of it will be earned and deserved. Yet, I can’t help thinking of what it took to get him there. The countless individuals who were stepped on or passed over by the King on his way to his crown.
SI does an excellent job painting a picture of a selfless individual that gives back to his community in Akron and holds himself to incredibly high standards. However, the article also does an excellent job of steering readers away from his time in high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s as well as his early years with the Cavaliers. While it is nice to read about the tremendous achievements on man has, it is necessary and dutiful to report all there is to report.
LeBron’s attitude has always been the same when it comes to the game of basketball and he is still no different today than he was 10 or even 15 years ago. When it comes down to it, he looks out for number one. When he was a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s, he petitioned the NBA to allow him to declare for the NBA Draft. Although they were his teenage years, James let the fame go to his head, much like he did throughout his first seven years in Cleveland.
While in Cleveland, LeBron was a tortured soul of sorts. The Cavs failed to make the playoffs during his first two years with the team. They made the playoffs the following year, but were ousted in the second round by the Detroit Pistons. In his fourth year, James led Cleveland to the NBA Finals on the back of one of the greatest performances in the postseason, scoring 48 points and 29 of the last 30 Cavalier points to win game five against Detroit. Yet, despite the phenomenal single game performance, James and the Cavs would be swept from the finals by the Spurs, a disgraceful exit by the King and his court.
The humiliation in the playoffs is what truly set LeBron’s career apart from stars like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. Although James could come up with amazing performances on his own behalf, he could not fit with the rest of the team and was frequently harped on by the media for his inability to close out games. Despite all the circus around him, he was still a phenomenal athlete and one of the best, if not THE best player in the NBA by the time the 2008-09 season rolled around.
That was the year the Cavs were favored to return to the NBA Finals. That was the year it was supposed to come together for the King and his court. That was the year it all fell apart.
Cleveland lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic in six games. James’ character was immediately called into question when he refused to even shake hands with his competitors. In the sporting world, that is about as disgraceful as you can be. James was labeled a poor sport and rightfully so.
The next season the Cavs would lose in the second round to the Celtics and James would come under fire for his poor play, particularly in the series finale where, although he scored 27 points and had 19 rebounds, he shot just 38 percent from the field. A selfish end to a selfish career in Cleveland.
Now, the saga has continued and, unless you have been living under a rock, the world of basketball has been turned upside down by James and his cronies. LeBron went to Miami with his infamous publicity stunt of an announcement and has since started a freak show that has seen Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade jump on board. The truth of the matter is, LeBron could not do it alone, but he was too proud of himself to admit it. So, he lured Bosh to Miami with him during the famous free agent frenzy of 2010.
Fans in Cleveland were crushed. Fans of the NBA were disgusted by his self serving showcase on ESPN. There has never been, and there may never be another individual who EVER pulls a stunt like that again. The greatest players the game has ever seen played the game with class and played with their teams for years, building and earning championships, not buying them. The game may be different today with the addition of free agency, but the mantra is still the same: champions are made.
In my eyes, no matter how LeBron’s career ends, he will always be the same self interested individual he was when he came out of high school. The same self interested individual that broke the hearts of thousands in Cleveland. No matter how many points he scores or records he breaks, it will never change the fact that he took the easy way out. He chose the simplest path to fame and fortune. With all the god given talent in the world, he chose to make things easier on himself rather than relish in the challenge of building his own greatness. No matter how you spin it, he had to step on someone, somewhere to get there.
So, congratulations on being the youngest player in NBA history to reach 20,000 points, LeBron. I hope it’s not as lonely at the top as it looks from down here.