Wednesday, May 06, 2009

About This Lebron Character

Ever since he received this year's MVP trophy a couple nights ago, it has been hard for me not to think about the now inevitable ascension of one LeBron James as the biggest, baddest, and best basketball player in all the land. Yeah, maybe there's an argument for Kobe still — especially if the Lakers win the NBA title — but I think it's pretty clear one person in this argument is fast approaching the downside of his career (I'm talking about the Black Mamba, which by the way is a nickname I never understood), while the other may just be scratching the surface of the prime years of his reign (obviously King James, a mark of royalty that, according to Battey, is one of the best and simple nicknames to possess).


Now it's not like all this praise is entirely new for LeBron. Aside from some harsh (at least in my book) criticism concerning his ability to make the big shot for awhile, the most superlative of superlatives in the world have been thrown at LeBron throughout his rise to power in the NBA. I mean the guy has been a marvel for fans and media alike since the moment he stepped on an NBA floor. It only takes a look back at some of the stuff people wrote and said about him right after his first professional game to see he was always destined to become a kind of otherworldly superstar for the world to gawk at.

"The Kings were thrilled James started his career in their building. "This is the biggest regular season game we've ever had here," said Joe Maloof, whose family owns the Kings. "There was a buzz around the city. It doesn't get better than this. This is great for the league. We all need him. He's a breath of fresh air." ...

"According to Kings officials, 350 press credentials were issued for the game, twice the amount for a regular-season game. Troy Hanson, director of media relations for the Kings, likened the number of reporters to what the team would expect for the second round of the playoffs. But, he said, the number of international reporters present was unprecedented for the Kings, who welcomed representatives from Canada, Taiwan and Japan."

If that's not enough for you, there's also how he won Rookie of the Year that season, joining Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only first-year players to average 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Or how he has a ridiculous 10 NBA youngest player records i.e. he's the:

1) Youngest player to be named NBA Rookie of the Year (19 years of age).
2) Youngest player to record a triple-double (20 years, 20 days).
3) Youngest player to score 40 points in a game (19 years, 88 days).
4) Youngest player to score 50 points in a game (20 years, 80 days).
5)) Youngest player to score 2,000 points in a season (2004-05).
6) Youngest player to average 30 points per game in a season (2005-06).
7) Youngest player to be awarded All-NBA honors (2004-05).
8) Youngest player to be named to the All-NBA first team (21 years, 138 days).
9) Youngest player to win an All-Star Game MVP (21 years, 55 days).
10) Youngest player to reach: 1,000 points - through - 11,000 points

The last one on that list is my favorite because it's really 11 youngest player milestones, not just one. In other words, this LeBron guy is literally on pace to smash a good chunk of the current NBA record book all by himself.

The funny thing is, as much as we know about just how remarkable a player he is on the court, we know just as little about who LeBron James really is when he's doing anything besides basketball. Bill Simmons brings this up in a recent ESPN Magazine column about how the relationship between athletes, and more specifically superstar athletes has changed over the years.

LeBron ushered in the I'm-controlling-every- interaction-I-have-with-you era. We've been hearing from him since high school, and yet I can't remember reading a single memorable feature about the guy. We think we know him through his entertaining antics with teammates, only I don't remember one funny thing he's actually said. He talks of becoming a global icon, of becoming the Jay-Z of sports, which makes perfect sense because we don't know anything about Jay-Z, either.

It's a real valid point, although I don't know about the funny part. Some of those Nike commercials are pretty hilarious. But those are all just LeBron, the actor and entertaining public figure. The closest time we've come to understanding what the real LeBron thinks about things was back during the Cavs title run in 2007 when he wouldn't sign a mean letter to the Chinese government, condemning the genocide in Darfur.

But I'll take it one step further than Simmons. There have been a litany articles like this one lately, marveling at the fact that LeBron, despite being thrown countless amounts of money (and undoubtedly as many hoochie mama groupies as he wants), has stayed out of the limelight trouble-wise. About the worst you see are pictures like this:

Or accounts like this:

Star baller LeBron James' friends know how to booze it up! Last night, while at Las Vegas club Jet at the Mirage, his his hard-partying posse kept downing drinks -- and stuck the 23-year-old teetotaling baller with the outrageous $2,000 tab! That's a lot of hooch!

Club sources say that while LeBron stuck to Red Bull, his entourage let loose with a magnum of Grey Goose and a bottle of Patron. Later on, after LeBron had settled the bill, his high-flying friends insisted on ordering an additional bottle of vodka. Everybody in the club gettin' tipsy! The already annoyed James paid for the last bottle -- with exact change!

Here's what I'll say, history tells us that many of the great basketball stars of the past had their vices. Most recently, it was Kobe's Colorado fiasco. For MJ it was an insatiable gambling habit and the persistent rumors that he had a thing for doing the whole "I'm married, except when I'm not around my wife" routine. Magic Johnson was likely the same way with the ladies (how do you think he became HIV positive in the first place?). Hell, Wilt Chamberlain was famous for boasting about sleeping with 20,000 women . The big man even inspired this gem of a quote:

"Treat princesses like whores, and treat whores like princesses...and you will score like Wilt Chamberlain."

I guess what I'm trying to get at is I want to know what LeBron's vice is. There's gotta be something there. We've heard all about how he basically made his posse his representation a few years ago. He's got a longtime girlfriend that he has had two children with. He grew up in a poor section of Akron, Ohio with a single mother. He had shadiness in his life, like his mom's on-again, off-again boyfriend Eddie Jackson who has been charged with crimes like aggravated cocaine trafficking and mortgage and mail fraud as recently as 2002. His biological father has multiple offenses on his record and briefly re-appeared in LeBron's like around the time he got drafted, but the two never actually reconciled. Even his Mom got arrested a couple time. Yes, he had some very good influences like a couple youth coaches in his life, but LeBron was a kid with constant turmoil.

"I saw drugs, guns, killings, it was crazy," said LeBron in a fairly in depth article about his early life. "My mom would always say, 'Don't get comfortable, because we may not be here long.' When I was five, I moved seven times in a year, sometimes living with friends."

Essentially, he's been in the spotlight for a good six years and yet I'm guessing for many of you reading this, that is the first time you've heard some of the nitty gritty details about LeBron's life. Somehow nobody seems to have broken through the code of the best player in a generation. I'll give Jack McCallum of SI the last word on this because his thought process through this whole LeBron phenomenon most closely mirrors mine.

I expected LeBron James, who arrived in the pros as an 18-year-old drawing intense scrutiny and facing extraordinary expectations, to have screwed up by this time. Not a Jeff George-level screwup, i.e., clashing with coaches and consistently underperforming. Not a Michael Phelps-level screwup, i.e., getting photographed with a marijuana pipe. Not necessarily a Kobe Bryant-level screwup, i.e., committing a sexual indiscretion that cost him a reputation that he has only recently begun to salvage.

But some kind of screwup. Show up late or not at all for one game. Miss a practice because of a Nike commitment, then say it doesn't matter all that much. Shove an unruly fan who got in his face in a club. Get frustrated from double- and triple-teaming and lash out at an opponent. Complain about teammates not giving him enough help.

But here we are in the 24-year-old's sixth season, and it's as if he's following a script written by a couple of hip, yet image-conscious screenwriters. Let yourself groove a little, LeBron, but stay within the lines.

3 comments:

Peter said...

Typical muck-racking journalist, trying to dig up dirt. I hope he turns out to be as vice-free as he's been so far.

sunflowerpipes.com said...

Michael Phelps is an American hero; he personifies hard work and a desire to succeed. Michael earned what he has unlike the wall street barons and crooked politicians of the world. The man is an American hero and most of us are proud and awed by his accomplishments in the pool. the fact that Phelps likes a glass smoking pipe, a hand rolled cigarette or big fat bong should in no way diminish the way we feel of the man’s accomplishments. Michael Phelps is doing his job and doing it to the degree of historical human greatness. Our admiration of this man does not give us the right to control his individual destiny or to judge his private choices through a lens of misguided morality. If one can achieve our world’s highest honors then they should be "free" in this country to their own pursuit of happiness.

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Anonymous said...

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