I want to state right at the top I utterly abhor this debate.
It has been the battlefield of the damned and lost for over a decade now, and has become a laboratory of some of the most paint-huffing thoughts around. That said, I can’t claim to not be damned or lost, and while paint-huffing is hardly my narcotic of choice I’m certainly familiar with others that have left my brain laggy and jaded. So into this pool, cess or not, I’ll jump.
My colleague here Rob Parker took down LeBron this morning for somehow cheating everyone out of “what was supposed to be.” Or that his journey isn’t true. No offense to Rob, but the wanking motion I’m making is likely to dislocate my elbow.
The idea that LeBron is still pining for respect because deep down he knows that he cheated...well, someone out of whatever it was he was supposed to do and be is an interesting one. Perhaps LeBron is demanding respect because from just about the time he could literally drink, every time he sneezed someone was there to scream, “MJ did it better!” I imagine that shit gets old pretty damn quick, and after 15 years of it, you should probably get some sort of medal for not clubbing anyone who says that to you.
It reminds me of a story my brother used to tell of going to see Van Halen (topical!) in his teenage years with a close friend and watching that friend yell, “JIMMY PAGE!” throughout the entire show. It’s great that you like that, but that’s not what we’re doing here, friendo.
And it was a comparison that LeBron has never asked for, never claimed to be, and generally hasn’t waded into all that much. It feels like it should have been reserved for Kobe Bryant, who mimicked Jordan with everything all the way down to the way he sat on the toilet, I’m guessing. LeBron has always been his own, has always asked to be viewed as such, and yet no one does.
Also the idea that LeBron shorted something to create a “superteam” in Miami is off as well. Because what exactly would we call a team with Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Horace Grant? It’s at this point I have to point out that upon leaving the Bulls, Grant signed in Orlando for a contract that made him the second-highest paid player in the league behind Jordan. He was the prize free agent that year, and something of a premier power forward in the mid-90s. Or Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman? That’s a super-team.
So what’s the difference if LeBron went somewhere to find teammates he thought Cleveland would never provide or he sat still and waited around for them to arrive? Jordan wasn’t the GM in Chicago, even if he acted like it, and if he was Charles Oakley would have been the power forward, point guard, coach, and color analyst (though that last part would have made for historic television). While free agency was different then, Jordan never had to leave because he had Jerry Krause around to build a team, even if Jordan will still shit on a dead man to try to discredit him. Remember Krause created two different championship teams for Jordan, though never without Pippen. James had a batch of one-eyed muppets in the front office.
It also ignored that LeBron came back, to a team that had Kyrie Irving and all the stand-ins for the Council of Elrond, and won there too. And when he wasn’t winning, he was losing to maybe the greatest team in history. He turned the Lakers into champs in two years, with no more of a supporting cast than Jordan ever had and in fact probably a much worse one.
The idea that NBA teams have to arise together through the wind, rain, mud, and blood of previous battles lost is an anachronism. The Warriors were around for a year or two and then kicked in the world’s skull. The Spurs never had to “arise.” The Celtics of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen were a collection of mercenaries, and yet no one seems to give a shit because they weren’t as successful as LeBron was? Can’t figure that one out. If anything, Allan and Garnett fleeing to Boston to join Pierce started the phenomena that James merely put a v2.0 on. Because he does everything better than everyone, y’see.
Bemoaning the fact that LeBron’s move to Miami changed the league forever and motivated players to design and force their own moves and careers together is to shout at the rain. Freedom of labor isn’t a bad thing. And believe me, if Jordan could have orchestrated his own team, it would have been at best an OK one. His personnel skills have been on full display in Washington and Charlotte. You have to pick those piles up with a plastic bag around your hand. Had Krause not been around and the Bulls continued to spin their wheels for a few more years, do we really think Jordan would have been automatic to stay put? My ass.
The idea that LeBron should have stayed put because of some mythical nobility despite incompetent front office work is borderline laughable. How’s that working out for Mike Trout? Connor McDavid? Now there are two players who are being cheated, and hence we are being cheated out of seeing them on the stage they belong.
The only other bastion LeBron-naysayers run to, which Rob did not, was the rings count. But boiled down to its essence, that’s just a count of a handful of games, less than 10, which is hardly enough to discount everything else that LeBron has in his favor.
In some ways, I feel sorry for people who don’t appreciate LeBron. To watch him and feel cheated in any way, when he is a true treasure of sport, is to miss the point. It’s to deprive yourself for reasons only known to you for the sake of depriving yourself. And I can self-harm with the best of ‘em, believe me.
Whether it’s Zeppelin or Van Halen, at the end of the day, it still rocks. Everything else is footnotes and references.