Is LeBron James' Damaged Reputation Irreparable?

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Is LeBron James' Damaged Reputation Irreparable?

One of the most telling moments in the union between LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh came during their first public appearance together.

After all of the raucous excitement and jubilation had quieted a bit, Dwyane Wade had expressed feelings of relief and excitement before one of the announcers chimed in, “It's Dwyane Wade’s house, but it's now also LeBron James’ kingdom,” a few minutes before adding, “It's Bosh’s pit.”

You see, LeBron James is no longer a king, at least not in the way he was before.

He’s no longer a king in the same way that Kobe Bryant is not really a black mamba, the way Dennis Rodman wasn’t really a worm and the way Dwight Howard doesn’t really leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Before when people called James “The King” it wasn’t a nickname.

The 2010 season saw Kobe Bryant have one of the worst regular seasons he’d seen in years as he fought chronic injuries and his Lakers fought complacency. Dwyane Wade was unable to make the Heat more than an afterthought in either the regular season or the playoffs, despite having an MVP caliber year.

Though Kevin Durant won the 2010 scoring title, there is little doubt that the brunt of James’ attention was anywhere but on capturing that award, considering that he finished fifth in assists per game and went as far as calling the scoring title “meaningless”.

James completely ended all legitimate 2010 MVP arguments sometime around January. With Kobe hampered and Wade mostly irrelevant, James had no competition. He truly was “The King.”

How the mighty have fallen.

Saying that James is starting from scratch heading into the next season would be an understatement, to say the least.

To be fair, most of the criticisms around James aren’t accurate or have been taken out of context entirely.

When Michael Jordan came out saying, "There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry (Bird), called up Magic (Johnson) and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team,'" everyone immediately jumped on board and used that quote as ammunition to attack James’ character or his supposed lack of a competitive nature.

And let’s face it, when Michael Jordan talks basketball it doesn‘t matter what he has to say, he’s right, right?

Not necessarily.

Jordan, Magic and Bird faced off against each other in the postseason for a combined six series, four of which took place in the NBA Finals.

Though Jordan only saw Magic in the Finals once (in ‘91), he faced off against Bird in the playoffs once in '86, and again in '87.

The three NBA Finals contests between Magic and Bird were always hyper-competitive, in fact, they were instant classics.

After retirement they had even gone on record admitting they “hated” each other during their playing days. For those two guys to have left their respective teams to unite, or worse yet skip the fence would’ve been blasphemous, even without adding Jordan into the mix.

James, Wade, and Bosh?

Bosh hasn’t been any closer to the second round of the playoffs than his appearance at the Staples Center last May and unless I missed something, Wade’s singular championship run didn’t go through LeBron James.

Furthermore, James and Wade have never met in the post-season at all unless they’ve been secretly battling on NBA Live.

Comparisons to a Jordan, Magic and Bird collusion to the Miami Heat’s current roster is simply invalid.

Back to the meat of the argument, James is no longer a king because a large portion of his kingdom has turned its back on him, not the other way around.

By “kingdom” I don’t mean just Cleveland. Cleveland was the capital of James’ kingdom to be sure, but they weren’t the only ones who crowned him.

Fans nationwide and analysts of every network and allegiance praised, adored and even crowned him as the greatest basketball talent since Jordan.

Now many have claimed that he’s not even the best player on his own team. Lately there’s even an uprising murmur among Miami Heat fans that Dwyane Wade has been the better player all along.

Wade is a spectacular talent, but spectacular enough to win the MVP award two consecutive years, lead a team to back to back 60 win seasons and/or the NBA’s best overall record in those consecutive years?

Given that he’s never done any of the above once, I doubt it.

One way or the other, the next few season will go a long way to determining if James will reach the all-time great status he seeks, but not because he chose to wear a different uniform for the upcoming season.

Its because before now, he’s never had the talent around him to get the job done.

And please, let’s not argue this. The Cavaliers were a team of mediocre specialists who were decent enough to build successful regular seasons around, but lacked the fortitude and talent to measure up to teams like the Celtics.

Mo Williams pondered retirement after James packed his bags. The highly overrated Anderson Varejao’s only specialty is flopping and somewhere in the world is a grandfather younger than Shaq.

Does that seem like a core that can compete against a team with three surefire Hall of Famers (four pending Rajon Rondo’s budding development)? Not really.

Now, James has finally found himself on a team with a roster capable of matching up against other elites.

Already, some have poured in ridiculous predictions for the Heat, including surpassing the ‘96 Bulls' 72-win season, beating the ‘72 Lakers' 33 consecutive win streak and challenging the '60s Celtics' eight consecutive titles.

As for me, I can’t cosign any of those outlandish predictions; it would be nice to see them win a single title first.

Even if the Heat do win the title, could James reclaim the aura he’s lost in the fallout of “The Decision?”  In a word: no.

He can’t recover all of it, at least. As they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Even though it's not fair, much of the world views James’ decision as a betrayal to Cleveland and all the hopes they had for him and his eventual legacy. With time (and wins), the wounds caused by James’ decision will heal and the pain will fade, but the scar will always be there.

It will likely take a bit more than a single title for James to make significant progress in the quest to repair his tarnished rep. However, if James were to win the Finals MVP in the process, he’d be that much closer to regaining his crown.

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