10 Reasons You're Missing Greatness If You're Still Criticizing LeBron James

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 31, 2012

10 Reasons You're Missing Greatness If You're Still Criticizing LeBron James

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    It's almost unfathomable to imagine that people are missing out on the chance to witness one of the greatest players to ever pick up a basketball.

    Yet even as LeBron James widens the gap between himself and his NBA peers, the voice of reason falls silent upon the King's haters.

    James will likely never shake all of his detractors, even as he shakes their criticisms with his play.

    People knocked his ability to perform in the clutch, then looked away as James delivered clutch baskets with clutch defensive stops in his miraculous playoff run.

    People said that he wasn't a champion, then pretended not to notice as his Miami Heat eased their way to a five-game series win in the NBA Finals and his Team USA escaped London with gold draped across their chests.

    Some do not like James the man and let that interfere with their opinion of James the basketball prodigy. It's a sad reality in the all-access world of modern day sports and a sure-fire way to miss greatness.

10. He's the League's Best Entertainer

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    He's equal parts tactician and showman.

    As interesting as James is to watch from a basketball junkie's perspective (i.e., watching his reads, angles, etc.), he's possibly more fun to watch for the nightly highlight reel he provides to the casual fan.

    He's one of the few players who keeps you on the edge of your seat no matter if he's playing offense or defense. He brings fans to their seat when the opponent is on the fast break. He's a 6'8", 250-pound forward with the vision and creativity of Magic Johnson.

    As basketball fans, there are reasons we are drawn to his greatness. But we must not forget to enjoy the wow factor along the way.

9. He's Already the League's Most Versatile Player

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    James is in so many "best (fill in the blank)" conversations that, save for a few shooting categories, he's probably in all of them.

    He's the game's premier defender. He should have won Defensive Player of the Year last season, and probably the year before that.

    He can match up with anyone in the league, with the size to bang in the paint and the quickness and agility to stay in front of guards.

    Offensively, he's nothing short of a virtuoso. With the addition of an improving post game, he's at that unguardable level that even elite players struggle to reach.

    But he can beat you with more than just his scoring.

    Just last season he finished in the top 20 in assists (17th), double-doubles (16th), minutes (sixth), steals (fourth) and scoring (third).

    And don't sleep on his jump shot. He's improved his field goal percentage in eight of his nine NBA seasons (including last year's career best 53.1 percent) and shot a very respectable 36.2 percent from three-point last season.

8. He Makes His Teammates Better on Both Ends of the Floor

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    A longtime barometer of an athlete's true greatness has always been the question, does he make his teammates better?

    It's always a lively debate, mainly because it's such a rare gift.

    Often times this quality is bestowed to players who look better than their numbers sound: a hustler who crashes the boards, a gritty defender who can hit an open three-pointer, a big man who can pass the basketball.

    To me, this quality is reserved for the greatest of the greats. It's too often doled out to players who make their teams better, but do not actually improve the play of their teammates.

    James has the offensive firepower to draw defensive attention and the court vision to make defenses pay for bringing double (or triple) teams.

    But it's his ability defensively to not only match up with the opponent's best scorer, but also to help his teammates that makes James more than just special.

7. He's Just Now Entering His Prime

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    It seems to funny to say that considering he's got three MVP awards already under his belt, but it's tough to deny that James is still evolving into a more complete basketball player.

    He's had the court vision and the great athleticism since making his debut in October 2003.

    But he's added new elements to his game every season.

    He sought out all-time great Hakeem Olajuwon in 2011 to help develop his post game, something that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra leaned on all season.

    He had the leadership role thrust upon him as the savior of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he often failed to grasp what that meant.

    Now he's unequivocally the leader of a Miami Heat franchise that features the best two teammates he's ever shared an NBA floor with.

    He's even embraced the closer role that he seemed to shy away from in previous seasons.

    He'll turn 28 on December 30, 2012. In other words, he could be five-plus years from relinquishing his throne.

6. He's Not Influenced by Outside Sources

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    When James incensed the basketball world by spurning his "hometown" Cavaliers in the infamous "Decision," he had a tough decision to make: apologize for doing something that he thought was right (the program raised more than $2 million for various Boys & Girls Clubs) or embrace the role of NBA villain.

    He chose to do the latter.

    And it was every bit as uncomfortable to watch as the cringe-worthy program was.

    This was a side of James that fans had never seen before. And remember, fans had watched James' rise since his domination of Ohio high school basketball at St. Vincent-St. Mary.

    James and his new cohorts (the self-dubbed "Heatles") drew the ire of opposing fans in NBA arenas across the country.

    They tried to embrace the hate, even draw from it for motivation.

    But this clearly wasn't his role. His mean mug was no more convincing (or ridiculous) than Kobe Bryant's.

    Shortly after a disappointing Finals performance in 2011, James rediscovered how to play his basketball (as he told ESPN's Rachel Nichols). 

    But even his brand of basketball had changed. He was no longer the joyful manchild that we remembered from his Cleveland days. He was now a determined superstar, with all of the tools at his disposal to reach his goals.

    He wore this persona a little better.

5. He Understands the Importance of His Legacy

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    Love him or hate him, Charles Barkley will always be one of the greatest NBA players without a championship ring.

    Likewise for Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, George Gervin, Pete Maravich, Allen Iverson...the list goes on.

    Could James have won a championship if he had stayed in Cleveland?

    It's hard to say with any conviction that the Cavaliers would have surrounded him with enough talent. Cleveland had James for seven seasons, and the best teammate they could find for him was Mo Williams.

    James knows basketball well enough to see that he was well on his way to topping that above list.

    In the short-term, he took plenty of shots for joining up with fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami for a chance at a dynasty.

    In the long-term, that may become irrelevant as people realize just how much talent it takes to win an NBA championship ("name the player" never won a ring by himself) and the fact that superteams are a large part of the league's history.

4. He Respects the Game and Those Who Came Before Him

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    Players like James don't dominate over night (even if the 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals in his NBA debut suggests that he did).

    No, these players are molded from hard work, preparation and an intricate knowledge of the sport.

    Raw talent can take players a long way, even all the way to the NBA, but raw talent alone doesn't make for great lasting power in the league.

    His knowledge of the game's history is the main reason that he understands his legacy, but it's also evident in the bits and pieces he's mimicked from different players' games.

    James is also mindful of the greats that paved the way for him when prodded by media members seeking the King's place in history in his own words.

    Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective) James doesn't have to do the arguing.

    His stats do the majority of it, but other basketball personalities have started making the arguments for him.

    Syracuse coach, and Team USA assistant, Jim Boeheim set Twitter and message boards ablaze shortly after the Olympics when he said on ESPN Radio that James may be better than Michael Jordan.

    Blasphemy, right? Again, depends on your perspective.

    But Boeheim's hardly the first person to make the argument. Former Dream Team teammate of Jordan, Charles Barkley, said that James could be on his way to challenging Jordan's throne and even Jordan's former running mate Scottie Pippen told ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike In The Morning that he thinks James is the better player.

3. He's the Biggest Threat to Join the NBA's Most Exclusive Club

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    He's already a multi-year All-Star with multiple MVPs, and now he's an NBA champion.

    But there could be a new club for James to set his sights on.

    The "Big O" club, the club of all NBA players who have averaged a triple-double for an entire NBA season.

    Here's the list in its entirety: Oscar Roberston.

    And that's it.

    James has yet to seriously approach Robertson's mark (his closest year came in his last season in Cleveland when he averaged 29.7 points, 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds), but Miami's roster is perfectly suited for him to make a strong run before his tenure in South Beach is over with.

    His move to the power forward spot will help his rebounding numbers (his 7.9 last season matched a career high) and Miami's lack of a true point guard will keep James involved in orchestrating Spoelstra's offense.

    James notably posted a triple-double in the Heat's championship clincher (finishing with 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds) then became the first Olympian with a triple-double tallying 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists in a victory over Australia.

2. He's Coming off One of the Greatest Years in Basketball History

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    Despite James totaling what was perhaps his most impressive statistical season in 2011-12, even that fails to capture just how special this calendar year has been.

    James joined Michael Jordan as the only players to win an NBA Championship, an MVP and an Olympic gold medal in the same year.

    Jordan completed the feat in 1992, with his Bulls team winning their second consecutive NBA championship and Jordan capturing his second consecutive MVP award.

    Barkley won the MVP the following season, but Jordan's Bulls completed their first of two three-peats that year.

    James, meanwhile, finished third in the 2010-11 MVP voting—the only time in the last four seasons that he has not won the award.

1. He May Be the Greatest Player That the Game's Ever Seen

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    What exactly would it take for James to threaten Jordan's stranglehold on the G.O.A.T. title?

    Well, for starters he'd need to at least match the six rings that Jordan managed. It took Jordan seven seasons to capture his first championship, while it took James nine seasons.

    Of course, it bears noting that the preps-to-pros James was 27 years old when he reached NBA gold, whereas Jordan was 28.

    James already trails Jordan by only two MVPs (three to five), and will enter the 2012-13 season as the odds-on favorite to add to his hardware collection next season.

    But James' real pursuit of Jordan will be played out on a court that's nothing like the NBA hardwood—it will be waged in the court of public opinion.

    Jordan transcended the game of basketball, thanks largely to his on-court success, his still-thriving shoe and clothing company, and a seemingly unmatched competitive edge.

    James is still trailing in this regard, but that margin is thinning.

    Whether last season's run brought him complacency or fueled his desire for more rings may hold the key to basketball's biggest question.

    Love him or hate him, this promises to be can't-miss drama.