Let me set the record the straight right away. I’m not the biggest fan of LeBron, but it has nothing to do with his game. There are other factors. He is the best player in the league right now. Hands down. There is no debate, and if you think there is a better all-around player in the NBA right now you need to have your head examined by a trained professional. Soon too because you might be a danger to those around you. Even so, I always couldn’t help but wonder, is LeBron undoubtably one of the best things to ever happen to the NBA or is he a product of his environment?
Let’s start with this. I think a lot of reasons that people hate LeBron (especially Cavs fans, which at this point, get over it) are actually a product of the way those people treated the man. He had public attention since high-school (seriously, national TV coverage for HS games? This isn’t Coach Carter). He was touted as the best thing to happen to basketball since the slam-dunk and long shorts (though John Stockton would debate that). He was named King before ever accomplishing anything. He had a $91-million contract from Nike before even stepping a foot on a NBA court in regular season.
After all that, are we really surprised that he will walk around with a sense of importance, and do things like assuming that everyone on ESPN cares about where he is taking his free-agent talents? In a way, LeBron never grew up like us. He never had to face difficult challenges or just normal, everyday life stuff. There were always cameras there. And now in the league, refs treat him like the untouchable, and he is by and far the face of an entire associate (sorry Durant). This is not the kind of thing that breeds mental fortitude. Actually, I’m not even at all surprised how unimportant LeBron is in the clutch. He is not used it. Even though the cameras are on him, it’s too much of an actual challenge. It’s not just being offered, it has to be earned and taken (sometimes things can be earned by forming the “superbuddies”).
To his credit, he has been getting a lot better. He won a ring (finally), and he plays the game with such a pure sense of joy that it’s tough to feel anything but appreciation for the guy (appreciation and an unbelievable amount of jealousy). He is pretty much the Weapon X of the NBA, indestructible and no one can stop him, but that’s the modern day NBA. Let’s now imagine an alternative.
A young, wet behind the ears LeBron comes into the League at the tender age of 18 in the late 80s, early 90s. The era when manslaughter through physical contact on the court is still just a flagrant 1. The age where artificially engineered big men roam the paint and disperse whoopings on average at three times per quarter.
Young Mr. James (can we call a teenager mr.) having not earned his strikes in the NBA yet (even though he was more televised than saturday morning cartoons) does not have the immense respect or fear of his peers. He is not built stronger and better than everyone else around him. In fact, by those standards he is kind of skinny. He also doesn’t quite have a very reliable outside shot. During his first game, Patrick Ewing knocks out two of his teeth and splits his eyebrow on a reckless drive to the paint. LeBron finishes with 9 points.
You get my point. As good as LeBron is, and make no mistake, he is simply amazing and on a whole different level right now, he is also a product of his environment. The era when players are too timid, referees are too quick to defend the starlets and breathing too close to an opponent is a personal foul. We also currently have a distinct lack of physical big men. It’s like the whole league got emasculated at Center.
Even the guards in the 90s were physical and strong. They had to be. Sometimes it was to choke out a coach (I see you Latrell) sometimes to put a hurting on your opponents (what’s up Larry Johnson). It was a whole different kind of game back then and it would be fun to see LeBron play it. I mean, yeah, some would still probably wish to protect him and warn players to go easy on Bron Bron, but Charles Oakley cares not for your warnings. He only cares for one thing, the smell of human blood.
In reality, it’s feasible that LeBron would still be an All-Star, he has a very distinct kind of game (much too similar to Magic Johnson) but he wouldn’t be the dominant freight train who still has flashbacks of illegal experiments the government conducted on him to make him super strong. He wouldn’t be undisputed. In fact, he probably wouldn’t even be top 5. And that ladies and gentlemen is my humble opinion when someone spouts malarkey about how LeBron is GOAT or is even in the conversation.