More than any other sports league, the NBA relishes the torch being handed from one superstar to the next.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980 passed the torch Michael Jordan in the 1990s. After Jordan retired the second time, there was a scramble by the NBA and the media to anoint the next Jordan.
Several players were given the mantel, most notably Jerry Stackhouse and Vince Carter. Neither player lived up to the high expectations.
One player finally did rise up and take the torch from Jordan, although Kobe Bryant never fully reached the heights that Jordan did in public affection. Bryant did accomplish what the NBA’s top star is supposed to do—win championships.
As Kobe, also straight out of high school into the pros, enters what could be the twilight of his career, who will take the torch from him? One came into the league eight years after Bryant and with all the hype to reach out and take the touch from him.
He came into the public’s consciousness while he was still only a sophomore in high school. And LeBron James was greeted by the American public with all the pomp and circumstance of an uncrowned king.
The future was bright for the young James while being named “Mr. Basketball” three times in the state of Ohio. LeBron was a fixture on ESPN his senior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.
As the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, the only question left was how many championships James would win. LeBron could not truly acquire the nickname King James without a NBA title.
His true coronation would come in the month of June while he held the NBA Championship high over his head. The championships would have to wait James's first two seasons in the NBA, as the Cavaliers failed to reach the playoffs.
Individual awards and records would pile up for LeBron those first two years in the league, but true success in the NBA comes in the playoffs. James did not disappoint by his third year in the league (2005-06), when he led the Cavaliers into the playoffs.
Cleveland was bounced in the second round by the Detroit Pistons but the future seemed even brighter. Following the 2006-07 season, James led the Cavaliers to their first conference final since 1992 and the first NBA finals in franchise history.
In only his fourth season, the young James was criticized for his play against the much more experienced San Antonio Spurs. LeBron could not win in the eyes of the media no matter how he played.
Most commented that he should have passed when he shot the ball or shot when he should have passed the ball. While running roughshod over the Eastern Conference that season James was nearly unstoppable.
Against the Spurs who knew what it takes to win a championship, James was ill-prepared and lacked the supporting cast to win a title. Cleveland and James were sweep in the finals by San Antonio.
The season following that finals sweep the Cavaliers and LeBron were supposed to take the next step in their evolution. The 2007-08 season ended once again with Cleveland failing to make it out of the second round by the Boston Celtics.
James was entering his sixth NBA season with even higher expectations, with all the media slowly starting to turn on him. LeBron won his first MVP award but the season ended in disappointment once more with Cleveland losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic.
After the loss to the Magic, James was highly criticized for walking off the floor without shaking the hand of the victors. LeBron was supposed to be the king and instead looked more and more like a spoiled prince.
The 2009-10 season was James seventh in the NBA, the same amount of years it took Jordan to win his first title. Cleveland spent wildly on upgrading its roster since LeBron would be a free agent after the season.
A king who was supposed to replace “His Airness” as the next great super star in a long line of super stars but needed a crown to show for it. James and the Cavaliers amassed the NBA’s best record and he won his second MVP.
All was set for LeBron to follow in Jordan’s footsteps and finally the uncrowned king to reach his coronation. James just had to lead the Cavaliers to the title, he and a city desperately wanted.
Alas, like some sort of Shakespearean tragedy Cleveland and James were bounced again in the second round by the Boston Celtics. LeBron took another media hit after his comments after game five against the Celtics.
For most of the playoff series against the Celtics, James and the Cavaliers looked lifeless and disinterested. In a year the king was supposed to be crowned he came off more as a Duke.
Maybe it is time for the rest of us to come to the realization that LeBron is not kingly material. That he is a good player but will never be great. That he cannot do the things necessary to be great.
James cannot make his teammates better; he cannot take over game whenever he wants. LeBron cannot feed of his defense when his shooting touch is off; he becomes disinterested when he is off his game.
The greatest players in NBA history, most notably Jordan, found other ways to help their team win on poor shooting nights. The greats made their teammates better and used their defense to lead their teams to victory.
James does not have the capacity to do the things the great ones do to win titles. He seems regulated to the Karl Malone and Charles Barkley role in NBA history.
All the MVPs and individual awards but not titles to show for it. The King might not find a crown.
The story is not yet finished being written, but it looks like James might have to settle for the title of prince or duke or baron. He has not shown that he has the skills it takes to lead a team to a title.
The media and fans might love him but how long will it last? Is the story really worth writing if there is not a once and future king?