LeBron at the Crossroads

22 Apr



“From a jack tooooo a kiiiiing.” That’s LeBron Raymone James.

Country crooner Ned Miller could’ve been foretelling the odyssey of Miami’s majestic one with the title of his ‘62 crossover hit.

From highly-touted high school phenom (Akron), to celebrated draftee (#1 ‘03), erstwhile underachiever (’07), scorned defector (MIA) and MVP totting NBA champ (’12), Le. James has finally claimed the throne so many had presaged.

Though Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, two-time titlist teammate Dwyane Wade, Finals force Chris Bosh and the rest of Miami’s squad contributed nicely to the conquest (OKC) that secured King James long-awaited coronation, generously spreading the love is not how it’s done in the sporting world.

It’s all about celebrity and there is but one crown. The team gets booty ($) and medals (rings) while the Finals MVP gets a well-deserved scepter and steady-stream of adoration.

But before his Highness gets too comfy in his royal state he should be aware he faces yet another crossroad in his storied and oh-so scrutinized career.

Unlike previous junctures (college vs. NBA, Miami or Cleveland), this intersection is not of his own choosing and the landing-spots not entirely within his control.

The destinations: a little hamlet know as ‘Greatness’ (Pop. 21), and the other, a terrific town that all too rarely topped America‘s ‘Best Basketball Place’ called ‘Wilt City.’

If James can lead his Heat to a repeat feat in taking another Larry O’Brien Trophy he’ll be in the driver’s seat cruising down Legacy Lane and headed straight for Greatness.

Back-to-backs mean dynasty and that would put LeBron and his Heat teammates in select company, a rarified-air few in this current NBA have inhaled, with team president Pat Riley and a handful of current Spurs & Lakers being among the lucky.

And another title is looking better-than-fair for favored MIA, having secured PS home-court with NBA’s top tally (65-16), set 2nd longest win-streak in NBA history (27), showcasing the 2012 MVP, exude a confidence that “super-abounds” after last year’s break-through win and face a field of competition that hardly sends shivers down one’s spine.

But LeBron’s got “miles to go” before he can buy that beachfront lot in Greatness.

With just one title in tow nobody, not even LRJ, can be sure which guy will show up in these playoffs: the hard-driving, post-season MVP of 2012 or the fade-away fella who saw Dirk Nowitzki take him and his Heat to school in 2011. The precedent here’s open to interpretation (a bit murky).

These Knicks are smoother (‘12) but Celtics are a tough draw, Bulls a darkhorse and Heat top the East. In the West, Clippers seek their first Final since birth (Buffalo), Grizzlies the darkhorse and until Westbrook (and Rondo) plays to his position (OKC) and Spurs time-travel back (age), both clubs will need all the stars in alignment to reach Finals ‘13.

If the Heat by chance drop the ball these playoffs, detouring from Greatness, watch as the Wilt Chamberlain comparisons begin for LeBron in earnest.

“Stilt” was the most talented player in the history of b-ball and did not lack for toughness, but the gold standard is the ring count, an item Chamberlain conceded far too frequently to nemesis Bill Russell and the Celtics.

If the Heat do win BTBs and forge dynasty, something Wilt & Co. never did (PHI / LAL), will that put King James on the Emperor’s throne as the greatest all-time (“GAT“)? Many a writer are today preparing to make just such a claim on LRJ in anticipation.

But not this scribbler. That the Heat will hoist another O’Brien in 2013 is a pretty good guess. James going GAT? That‘s a whole ‘nother conversation.

While the NBA gold standard is measured in championship metallica, it is weighted by it’s karat-count, competition.

Neither LeBron, nor Jordan for that matter, faced Finals foes the likes of Russell, Elgin, Oscar, Wilt or West, Willis, Walton or Jabbar, Larry, Julius, Moses or prime Magic.

MVPs glitter, scoring titles carry cachet, All-Defensive teams show substance, All-Star accolades are cute costume jewelry and who you beat matters BIG time.

And the ‘BIG matters’ Heat could face this PS: Kobe & Dirk are out, Duncan, Pierce & Garnett will be present while Nash & Parker are <100%; rising stars Rose (out), Durant, Randolph, Anthony, Harden, Howard, Paul, Griffin, J. Smith, George, Deron, Westbrook, Rondo, Amar‘e, Curry and Noah have more to prove before they add to the karat count.

Might there come a day when LeBron is referred to as ‘the greatest?’ He already is in some circles. But consider that those are the same folks that when the next highly-hyped star comes down the pike they’ll be calling that guy ‘the greatest’ first chance they get.

Because of the competition-gap, because of his ‘Johnny come lately’ status in the title category (Y10) and the orchestration employed to fashion his Miami championship melody that left more than a few people miffed, it’s doubtful James will ever overtake the names Magic, Russell or Chamberlain when historians rank the best ever.

In his favor is the man’s age, still a youngish 28 (12-30). Amazing. If he avoids the serious injury bug, can cajole ownership to keep investing, stay hungry and play another ten years, those MVPs should keep coming and with no other player today under-30 who plays to his caliber, more titles should be had.

The big question: Does LeBron James even care about GAT? Maybe not. He probably needs one, maybe two more titles to feel fully validated but with all the fame, fortune and accolades he’ll have accumulated he might just decide to hang ‘em up at 35 and leave the rest to fans & media to sort out.

Whether or not LeBron James ever dons ‘greatest all-time’ regalia, there’s no doubt he’s ready to set down roots in that exclusive community know as Greatness. It’s a place fit for a king.

Steven Keys

Nothing But Net

Photo Credit: LeBron James / wc.cc / “Cesar” / 3-30-11


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