One is the Loneliest Number: The Saga of King James Continues

Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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.

-Cicero

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.

16 Responses to "One is the Loneliest Number: The Saga of King James Continues"

  1. Lel   January 18, 2013 at 10:53 am

    > it will never change the fact that he took the easy way out.

    Easy way out?

    Lebron James‘s 2012 playoff performance was the greatest of
    all time.

    1st in PPG

    1st in points

    1st in Rebounds

    1st in PER

    1st in offensive Win Shares

    1st in Defensive win shares

    2nd in assists

    2nd in steals

    No player has ever done this in the playoffs

    Only Larry Bird is the only player ever to be 1st
    in points and rebounds, and 2nd in assists

    Lebron’s two sidekicks were injured and even missed large
    portion of the post season. Imagine Pippen or Shaq being injured during a
    postseason. Imagine Pippen and Rodman being hurt, or Shaq and Fisher being
    hurt.

    Lebron had huge signature moments, the 45/15/5 game when
    facing elimination in Boston, the place that haunted him his entire career.

    His pivotal game 4 performance when down 2-1 on the road,
    with Chris Bosh injured, Lebron Put up 40/18/9 to tie up the series.

    The Game in which his body betrayed him, cramped his legs
    up, but he continued to play because his team needed him, and hit a 3 pointer
    to give him team a 3 point lead with 2 minutes left in the game. Had the heat
    lost the series would have been 2-2 not 3-1.

    No athlete in the history of MANKIND has ever played with
    more pressure, scrutiny, and hate as Lebron did and he rose above it.

    Feel free to prove me wrong

    INB4

    HURR B.B….But HE DID DA DECISION!!!

    yea, he also raised 5 million dollars for impoverished youth
    while you probably making a facebook status about how upset you were.I’m not surprised you cant empathize with a person
    who grew up with nothing wanting to give back considering you probably have had
    everything in your life handed to you, and still ended up some joke internet blogger.

    Stay mad

    Also, you are calling him out on things he did at 17-25 years old. You are telling me you didn’t have personal flaws and do things you regret as a youth? Everything you mentioned against his character happened before his 26th Birthday. Your frustration is literally bursting at the seams.

  2. Lel   January 18, 2013 at 10:56 am

    >I hope it’s not as lonely at the top as it looks from down here.

    Further, I don’t think LeBron is “lonely” at the top. In the past 48 hours, Lebron has celebrated a huge career milestone with his best friend, his best friend’s birthday (whom he plays on the same team with) and probably spent some time with his wife and kids. Meanwhile, you are pulling out things he did 10 YEARS AGO in some bitter blog, in some futile attempt to destroy his image.

    Bitternofriends is no way to go through life

  3. Hoopster   January 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

    “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”

    God forbid some 17 year old from the ghetto, who lived in over 20 different places growing up due to poverty, would want to go to the NBA a year early and start his career.

    You should probably go into a different field

  4. Casey   January 18, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    One playoff run does not greatness make. LeBron has certainly proved that. He is one committed zone defense away from elimination again. Couple of years ago many jumped on the wagon to proclaim Dirk to be better than Larry Bird. I haven’t heard much of that lately.

  5. Hoopster   January 18, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    To Casey,

    Cool opinion man, Funny how you seem to have an edge on all 31 NBA coaches and know something they don’t. Two years ago, you may have been right. Lebrons outside shooting, post game, and passing ability have all improved, seeing that when teams do play zone, he gets inside, gets defenses to collapse, and dishes out easy 3 pointers that make shane battier, mike miller, norris cole, and mario chalmers look all stars. Please refer to the 2012 Finals

    Also, Dirk didn’t have 3 MVP’s by age 27. Dirk didn’t win a championship until age 31. Dirk wasn’t the youngest player to reach 20,000 points. Dirk didnt become the youngest and 11th player all time to reach 20,000/5,000/5,000 at age 28.

  6. Casey   January 18, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    You misunderstood my reference to Dirk. I did not intend to compare their careers directly. Rather I was noting culture’s tendency for hyperbole.

    Youngest to 20,000 is subjective right? It pretty much precludes everyone prior to 1995 with the exception Bill Willoughby, Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins. Beyond that, LeBron gains the benefit (in this stat) that the NBA has changed the interpretation of the arm bar rule for defenders. It’s somewhat like comparing a current NFL QB to a signal caller from the 60s or 70s. Rules have changed so drastically in the NFL to increase scoring, QBs are going to look better by the virtue of their numbers. The NBA hasn’t made a drastic modification but enough to take notice.

    We refer to the 2012 finals but not 2011?

  7. Casey   January 18, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    I am not at all questioning LeBron’s ability to pass the ball. I enjoy watching him as a distributor. Love his vision with his back to the basket.

  8. Hoopster   January 18, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Handcheck or not, FG percentage and Points per game are lower now than they were pre 1995, its tough to make an argument that defenses of yesterday were better when they were giving up more points and allowing shoots to score at higher FG%

    Your NFL reference is not relevant considering the opposite effect is happening in the NBA, instead of scoring more points and having higher FG%, Teams today score less and have lower FG%. Defensive rotations have improved since the 80s and 90s whether you want to admit it or not, you can tell by watching the games or looking at the numbers.

    Comparing him in 2011 and not in 2012 or lets say now, would be to imply he was at his prime in 2011, which I think we can both agree is not true. He still had more work to do and I believe is still not at his prime. Next season will probably be his best at age 28/29. Jordan was 28 when he made it to his first NBA finals

  9. Nick   January 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    It’s not that I wasn’t expecting some backlash but I’m surprised that I have some passionate fans talking about this. As for the personal attacks I ask that you keep things a little bit more constructive. Everyone is allowed an opinion.

    I want to start off by saying that I am in no way discounting that LeBron James is, right now at this point, playing at an MVP level. For me, personally, when I look back at a player throughout their career, I have to take in the entire picture. It is not easy to do when a person is only halfway through their career for EITHER side of the argument.

    My main point, and bear with me here, is that in order to get to where he is right now, James had to step on a lot of different heads and toes. The media, particularly ESPN who has a vested interest in LeBron’s success, has suddenly made him out to be the nicest, most amazing player that ever graced us with his presence, and that is simply not true. He has certainly done his fair share at trying to change his image, and philanthropy may be one of those things (5 million for charity) but the truth is that any star athlete who hires a good PR team would know to donate that money. Not saying it wasn’t the right thing to do.

    As for all of his accomplishments during last year’s playoffs….

    Let’s remember a few things. First and foremost, when teams game plan for the Heat, they can’t just plan for LeBron. There are two other superstars on that team. It doesn’t matter if they are not playing their best, you still need to respect them both. He never had that in Cleveland. Ever. So, in my opinion, yes, he took the easy way out. Even the greatest players who played the game said the same thing. No one even thought about creating a “super team” when Magic and Bird played. They stuck with their team and made each other better. It was a higher level of competition to them. Something to reach for every season.

    The game in Boston was phenomenal. No doubt. Even I applauded that.

    The game in Cleveland when he scored 29 of the final 30 points to beat the Pistons was phenomenal too. At least he did it with Cleveland and with no other bonafide superstars on his side AND against the Pistons who had an All Star roster coming off an NBA Championship. Boston is in decline and I think many fans have been waiting for their age to catch up to them.

    I think some people are missing my argument about him looking out for himself as a youngster. In my opinion, you can’t change a tiger’s stripes and you can’t take that desire out of someone to be the best. To me, LeBron has never exhibited a strong sense of character until the past two years when he has worked so hard on improving his image.

    To wrap this up, please don’t think that I am discounting LeBron for his talents. He is good. Great even. When it comes down to it at the end of the day, however, I don’t know if I will be able to look past all of the negative moments that began his career. I think there are many people in Cleveland who will never forget how he treated them and the rest of the NBA world should never forget it either.

  10. Hoopster   January 18, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    >My main point, and bear with me here, is that in order to get to where he is right now, James had to step on a lot of different heads and toes

    By Leaving Cleveland? Are you attemping to say that since Lebron was drafted by the Cavs, he had no right to leave them, and in doing so, he screwed everyone over and is a bad person? I’m sorry buddy but as a professional athlete, you are not enslaved to stay at a team just because they drafted you. When it was all said and done anyway, the Cavs fans showed their true colors that they only liked lebron because of what he could DO FOR THEM.

    So, in my opinion, yes, he took the easy way out. Even the greatest players who played the game said the same thing. No one even thought about creating a “super team” when Magic and Bird played. They stuck with their team and made each other better

    For Magic: I guess Kareem, the guy who is the all time leading scorer, blocker, top 5 rebounder, and top 25 assist guy, 19 all star games, multiple finals MVP’s is a bad Partner in Crime. Jamaal Wilkes isnt in the HOF either or anything, neither is James Worthy.

    Jordan had Pippen, considered to be a top 25 player and a member of the HOF, Dennis Rodman, a HOF and probably the best rebounder of the modern era. Coach Jackson isnt one of the best coaches ever either

    Bird: Mchale and Parrish are both HOF’ers

    Must be nice to have mutliple HOF’ers come to/be on the team that drafts you from day one.

    >I think there are many people in Cleveland who will never forget how he treated them and the rest of the NBA world should never forget it either.

    Once again, what exactly did he do wrong? He left in Free Agency? I dont see the Issue. Did you oppose the Celtics Big 3? What are your thoughts on the Lakers right now? or Chris Paul or Melo’s Highjacking of their teams in making them be trading to THE TEAM THEY WANTED ONLY?

    Do you happen to be a Boston Fan?

  11. Nick Steblenko   January 18, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    No my fanhood lies with the game.

    I don’t think any of those players made a spectacle of their choice to move during free agency. I don’t believe that it was simply for charitable purposes. Nice thing to do, but charity can be used as a PR move and that’s what I think happened with “The Decision”.

    Leaving for another team is one thing. Yet, remember all those other superstars during that summer? LeBron sat back and waited for the dust to settle before choosing the prize team. Kareem had already won a championship before coming to the Lakers. Mchale was drafted by the Celtics. I’ll give you Parrish in his move from the Warriors. Jordan was the greatest ever and won without both of them too. Phil Jackson is indeed the best coach in history as well. Do you think we can say the same about Spoelstra?

    Maybe I am more of a traditionalist. I believe that James could have won in Cleveland. They were in the playoffs every year, where is the harm in that? Michael Jordan took his team to the playoffs and lost in each of his first six seasons. It takes time, patience and perseverance. His bolt during free agency exhibited none of those qualities.

    As for today, maybe the game has changed. Still, the fact remains that he made a spectacle of himself. He tried desperately to become larger than the game itself. To me, that’s just not how you treat the game that treated you so well and made you a star.

  12. Casey   January 18, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Yes, Bird had McHale and Parrish.

    Magic had Kareem, Worthy, Wilkes, Norm Nixon, not to mention to AC Green and Michael Cooper. Who am I forgetting. Geez, how did they ever lose?

    But don’t forget, Dr. J. had Moses Malone, Mo Cheeks, Andrew Toney and Bobby Jones.

    The Rockets had Hakeem, Ralph Sampson, John Lucas and Robert Reid.

    The Suns had Walter Davis, Larry Nance, Maurice Lucas and Dennis Johnson.

    The Jazz had Malone, Bailey, Darrell Griffith, Tripucka and Stockton not to mention a young Dell Curry.

    Mavericks? Aguirre, Blackmon, Harper, Perkins.

    Obviously I am jumping around in the years. My point is, yeah, Bird and Magic had a good cast around, but so did many other teams. Their struggles to get to through the playoffs were greater.

    Yes, you are right. FG% and scoring was higher in the 80s because there were more scorers. Now you have guys who can score. There is a difference. Move the 3pt. line out further and you will increase scoring. You have too many guys out there who have no business shooting. They should be on the arc to set screens and keep the ball moving. We have too many guys trying to make highlights with dunks instead of putting up 500-1000 jumpers a day in practice. There were guys like Alex English, Aguirre and Adrian Dantley (to start the list) who could not be left open on the perimeter or it was automatic. How many guys can you say that about now?

    As for MJ – there is enough body of work for Pippen not playing alongside Jordan to show who was the leader of that troop. The fact that MJ could win titles with Bill Cartwright, Bill Wennington and Luc Longley logging significant minutes inside testament to his greatness.

  13. Casey   January 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    I forgot Will Perdue to the list of stiffs playing inside for the Bulls.

  14. Connor   January 19, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I don’t understand why going where you have the best chance to win is “taking the easy way out”. LeBron made an active decision to go to a team he could win with. I think the decision was handled poorly but I know twenty-five year olds who have done much worse (and not for charity). Anyone watching those Celtics vs. Cavs series knew LeBron could only drag his team of bench mercenaries so far. Every team that has won a championship since LeBron’s rookie year had at least two Hall of Fame caliber players, and all the superstars who criticized LeBron were fortunate to have front offices that put Hall of Famers around them. The weakest was Kobe with Pau Gasol and Bynum, both all-stars. You just cannot win in the NBA without either two Hall of Famers, or one and a few all stars. The exception is the Pistons, who were the perfect storm of defense. Now LeBron has his team and his numbers have never been better. He has taken on even greater expectations and shouldered just as great a load as before and yet he is the target of endless vitriol for making use of free agency just as every other NBA player has the right to. I refuse to criticize LeBron for keeping himself from joining Stockton, Barkley, Ewing, Malone, and Iverson as another great player who never reached the summit of the NBA.

    And above all, we live in a world of Bonds, Armstrong, Vick, and Woods. These are true examples of poor morals and bad sportsmanship. LeBron doesn’t shake hands after his season is cut short and he is endlessly torn apart by the media. Why has the hatred for him endured and not for Bynum, who threw an elbow at an airborne and defenseless Barea, upon whom he has 100 pounds and a foot of stature? Had LeBron shaken hands with his typical smile on his face the media would’ve seen a man lacking the desire to win, who didn’t want it bad enough. Unfortunately, this article, along with the thousands of others like it and the millions of mindless tweets, is the product of a culture of haters, of Skip Bayless-types who ask the world of a man in his early twenties and feel that he should be personally attacked for being unable to deliver. And now LeBron’s most accomplished year is over, he has delivered everything that could possibly be asked of him, and yet here I am reading about how we should not accept his greatness. It’s time to start appreciating the privilege of watching an all-time great finally reach his potential.

  15. Rey   January 19, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Connor:

    “Had LeBron shaken hands with his typical smile on his face the media would’ve seen a man lacking the desire to win, who didn’t want it bad enough.”

    I said the exact same thing to myself. We want the old NBA where the Pistons do anything to win but then we want enduring sportsmanship from LeBron. Tough to have both.

    “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.”

    How can you report on things and you’ve never met the man, attended a practice, etc.? I just don’t get the attack in this piece, I guess. How many years ago was the Decision? Even LeBron admits that was a poor Decision. I also don’t think being swept by that Spurs team was embarrassing. That was a HORRIBLE Cavs team he carried. Even Jordan had a top 50 player of all time.

  16. Rey   January 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    And lastly, long before LeBron was making his “Decision,” college football fans across America tuned in to see what hat a 17-18 year old would put on. He never had that chance. How heavily televised would that decision have been? This was a big kid making a mistake and listening to those around him (or maybe not making a mistake, just raising money). LeBron didn’t create this look-at-me culture. Unfortunately, he became a product and was conscientious enough to admit fault. If only I had the courage he did to reflect back and say I was wrong more often.

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