One word distinguishes basketball from its athletics peers: accessibility.
It's a historically rich sport interwoven with an embossed human element.
The ball divorced its laces and the basket is no longer literal, but its roots as the ultimate pick-up game still remain.
No barricades differentiate between spectators and athletes. No helmets disguise the face of a franchise as another camouflaged clone. Sticks, pads and cleats need not apply.
Basketball is the only mainstream sport where celebrities nonchalantly chat in-game with resting icons, followed by a live scorning from the game's most successful coach. The hardcourt sets the stage for late-game dramatics, when tables turn and players mock the fans.
The aforementioned details also magnify the public microscope and assure that criticism never flat-lines.
Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony are shooting stars that deny their teammates' wishes. Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin hit the genetic jackpot, but waste their inheritance by not taking the time to invest.
But "The Chosen One" is the undisputed king of controversy. Is LeBron James' praise undeserving?
ESPN Insider John Hollinger's player efficiency rating (PER) draws from a formula that measures per-minute productivity.
In his own words:
To generate PER, I created formulas—outlined in tortuous detail in my book "Pro Basketball Forecast"—that return a value for each of a player's accomplishments. That includes positive accomplishments such as field goals, free throws, 3-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, and negative ones such as missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls.
What PER can do...is summarize a player's statistical accomplishments in a single number. That allows us to unify the disparate data on each player we try to track in our heads (e.g., Corey Maggette: free-throw machine, good rebounder, decent shooter, poor passer, etc.) so that we can move on to evaluating what might be missing from the stats.
I set the league average in PER to 15.00 every season.
There are four teams left: Miami, Boston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
Let's compare the infinitely scrutinized MVP to the standouts of each respective team: Rajon Rondo, Kevin Durant and Tony Parker.
Currently, LeBron's playoff rating (31.02) has actually increased from the regular season and continues to dwarf his counterparts.
Durant (27.72) finished 3rd, followed by Rondo (22.97) at 13th and Parker's (19.52) 28th ranking.
Discard the variables, but the raw numbers still illustrate No. 6's diversity.
While Father Time trapped Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett against the ropes in round 12, second winds allowed the veterans to counter. They deem the label of "power forward," but both individuals play the five spot: traditionally assigned to the center. They claim the paint, swarm rebounds and moonlight as their respective rim's bodyguard.
Although he's at a three-inch height disadvantage, LeBron still averages slightly more rebounds per game (8.9) than Duncan (8.8) throughout the 2012 playoffs. His FG percentage (.500) is also a nose ahead of Garnett's (.496), despite the big man predominately working closer to the bucket. James alone has also converted 19 more free throws than the tandem have in 29 combined games.
Traveling from the warzone of giants to the barracks of floor generals, "King James" even tosses the rock more (5.5 APG) than Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook (5.2 APG).
The comparisons paint a portrait of the most dynamic player in the NBA.
But, in large, the basketball community still chastises LeBron James for leaving Cleveland and joining forces with Dwyane Wade. Naysayers neglect the fact that James remained loyal to the Cavaliers for seven years, an organization that never rewarded good behavior by signing a secondary star.
Remember, even Michael Jordan—Mr. Basketball, himself—posted a lopsided 1-9 playoff record before Scottie Pippen.
"The Decision" shoveled a hole for LeBron's image, and the Big Three's meet-and-greet showered it with dirt. While other superstars have owned regrettable off-court headlines—some even dipping into turbulent legal waters—LeBron is still the one climbing out of a seemingly endless abyss.
But when James' services were still on the market, the scale of judgment was evenly balanced and his popularity was unprecedented. Objectivity is a package deal that comes with neutrality; "The Decision" released brakes that restrained basketball's fastest emotional roller-coaster.
Currently, LeBron James is the postseason's Most Valuable Player. Statistics that earned him the regular-season MVP have only improved in the playoffs. A portion of fans will echo that he's overrated, but the claim is often jump-started by feelings of bias. Numbers don't lie, emotions do.
In basketball, championships dictate legacies. The Larry O'Brien Trophy represents the ultimate muzzle. The NBA's favorite antagonist will only lower critics' pointed fingers after earning a ring of his own.
If LeBron James' teammates mimic his consistency, a game of thrones will crown a new "King."