Can LeBron James' Greatness Be Emulated?

Rob Mahoney@RobMahoneyNBA Lead WriterAugust 31, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12:  LeBron James #6 of the United States celebrates winning the Men's Basketball gold medal game between the United States and Spain on Day 16 of the London 2012 Olympics Games at North Greenwich Arena on August 12, 2012 in London, England. The United States won the match 107-100. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NBA offseason is long and unsettlingly quiet. With coaches neck-deep in preparation and players set in their workout regimens, the news cycle comes to a grinding halt just weeks before training camp is set to begin.

That may come as bad news to those who follow every bit of news and rumor that comes across the NBA wire, but it also offers an opportunity to consider the league and its players in a more theoretical sense without objective distractions. There are no games to get in the way of our basketball daydreams.

All of which leads me to consider the place of LeBron James as an icon.

Part of being one of the greatest basketball players in the world is flattery by imitation. Whether on the playground or in an empty gym, young players the world over imitate the memorable moves and plays they've seen on their television sets.

Imaginary clocks tick toward zero, push-offs lead to game-winners made in Michael Jordan's image. An army of crossover artists imitate Allen Iverson. An elaborate series of pass fakes serves as a call-back to Magic Johnson.

Such emulation is part of what makes great players into legends, and yet it's an area of basketball stardom that James may not be able to explore. Not only does he not have an explicit signature move (the closest example may be a tomahawk dunk thrown down with a trademark panache), but so much of what he does on the court just isn't easily replicable.

It consists of speeding past and overpowering opponents, along with a level of athletic dominance that wishful ballplayers simply don't possess. He isn't as outright flashy as Magic or Iverson, and nothing he does well is as conceptually accessible as a Jordan fadeaway.

He's simply a marvelous player who consistently performs at a higher level than all of his contemporaries. As a result, he has yet to capture the attention of this particular generation.

His effectiveness on the court can't be denied, but James may never be as popular as those who offered examples better suited for replication. After all, it's beyond unlikely that we'll see a crop of huge, multi-talented ball-handlers pop up a decade from now, if only because James' particular combination of gifts is so rare.

Jordan was a singular player, but James is a singular talent—so unique in profile that he does not have a certain crossover appeal.