NBA Preview 2010-11: Inside the Mind of LeBron James
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"In this fall, this is very tough, in this fall I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat... I feel like it's going to give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years, and not only just to win in the regular season or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row, I want to be able to win championships. And I feel like I can compete down there."
-Lebron James during "The Decision"
A fall from grace, the instantaneous change of role from hero to villain, is hardest to understand when you feel like you did nothing wrong; welcome to the world of LeBron James.
I am a hypocrite, that much I'll admit. After years of building him up, I quickly pledged my hatred toward LeBron the second he moved south.
Over James' first seven seasons, he has oscillated between the titles of Saviour and Goat in the public—and my personal—eye.
A larger-than-life figure since the ripe age of 17, LeBron has had to deal with pressure and expectations that no other figure in sports history has had to cope with.
Not to say that James has had more pressure put on him than Hank Aaron or Jackie Robinson (who faced death threats and the wrath of a still-racist country), but in the Age of Technology, every move made by LeBron is scrutinized and analyzed by our ravenous media and his 900,000+ Twitter followers.
The circus surrounding LeBron is no accident, but it represents the very reason why we watch sports in the first place.
Spawned from Waterloo, where General Arthur Wellington led the Brits to victory with skills acquired "on the playing fields of Eton" (his boarding school), the idea that sports build character has been woven into the fabric of American culture since our nation's inception.
In American society, athletes are looked at to represent the model characteristics of human performance: a strong will, an unselfish streak and a cool-under-pressure demeanor.
The social infatuation with Michael Jordan puts this theory into practice.
Jordan may have had all the physical tools to be considering the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), but his burning desire for greatness kept him motivated enough to harness his craft and perfect it.
Conversely, this theory explains the dark cloud that used to hang over Alex Rodriguez's head. Unable to deal with the daily pressures that come with being the highest-paid player in sports history, A-Rod faced problems on and off the field. While he failed miserably in the clutch at the plate, he also struck out with the media, especially when he continually fed them lies during his steroid scandal.
The comparison between James and A-Rod yields similar connections.
For LeBron, "The Decision" and his growing irritation with the media created a Tiger Woods-esque backlash from the public when he "fled" for the confines of Miami.
When Rodriguez signed his $250 million deal, then landed on baseball's most-hated team (the New York Yankees) because of a request to be traded, he put the proverbial media bulls-eye on his back, and it has taken him nearly seven years to recover.
James' free agency bonanza, coupled with his disinterested play at the end of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semis, created animosity between him and the public (a LeBron first).
Once the proud owner of a Q score that "was the highest we had ever seen it," according to Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Q Scores, James is now viewed in a negative light by 39 percent of the population, a 17 percent increase since the last poll in January.
LeBron is flanked by two of his best friends, both All-NBA players motivated to win "not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven..." championships.
The Miami trio played together in the Olympics, developed chemistry on the court and off it and decided that they would exercise free will and challenge the West, Baylor and Chamberlain triad as the most-talented threesome ever assembled on a basketball court.
If you're a Clevelander (look that up), you whole-heartedly disagree with me and I almost fully understand.
As a Knick fan, we had LeLegend in our grasp, more couldn't have been written about the supposed arrival of "King" James; then in one sentence it all fell apart.
Even though I have watched James play countless times over his career, there is no way I can compete with fans that prayed on the ground he walked, cherished every dunk he threw down because it may be their last and called themselves "Witnesses" to His Greatness.
I can give you this.
Suppose you were a dynamic corporate lawyer, laden with potential, stuck in a small firm in Cleveland that only handled small market clients. Your contract is running out, two of your best friends have an opening at CRAVATH SWAINE & MOORE (if you've never heard of them, you don't need them) and want you to join them.
Despite being at the Cleveland firm for a few years and staying marginally content making above-average money, you would take the New York spot no questions asked.
It's not about the money for you, just like it wasn't for James (if it was he'd be in New York as well).
You never had fun in college while you were a law student slaving over the LSAT, just like James never went to college. Maybe he needs some male camaraderie, coming from a team where his best friend was Ricky Davis at one point (obviously a joke since Ricky is too selfish to have any real friends).
Finally given a chance to be around people you enjoy working with, on a bigger stage mind you, the possibilities for your career are endless. Fame, titles, quarterly awards, all seem to be just a whisper away.
Then, you stand up on your old boss' desk and tell the office your plan and quit on the spot.
Comparatively, it doesn't sound burning-jerseys bad—awful PR and too much press; that much I can blame James, and the people around him, for.
Can I blame James for wanting more out of his career? No. That's why I wish he at least went to Chi-town. James knew he needed support; he acknowledged he couldn't do it on his own, so he went out and found a solution (albeit not a crowd-pleaser).
When did that become a sign of weakness?
As an athlete, you are taught to play within yourself, know your skills and deficiencies, then adapt accordingly. LeBron knew that he couldn't win a championship with his supporting cast in Cleveland and chose the destination where he had the best chance of doing so.
Don't play the comparison game with LeBron and Jordan, either, MJ is in his own class.
While it hurts as a competitor to see Dwayne Wade and James on the same team, remember there is no Jordan without Pippen, no Shaq without Kobe, no Kobe without Pau.
We wanted them to compete against each other, but sometimes what we want may not be the best option.
Coming full circle, A-Rod knew he couldn't win without support; he identified his own weakness and fixed it by going to the star-heavy Yankees. After he passed the usual New York trial-by-fire, Rodriguez turned in an otherworldly playoff performance during the Yankees' '09 championship run tallying six homers and 18 RBIs in 15 games, not to mention the countless out-of-character clutch moments he delivered along the way.
Will LeBron follow in A-Rod's lead, will he do more, or less? These questions can only be answered once the season starts up again.
Now, though, LeBron looks angry and focused on the basketball court.
The public disdain with the mere mention of his name in certain circles (mainly Cleveland) has given James the fuel to feed his own internal fire.
This year, keep the rest of the league on notice, LeBron is hungry and motivated to silence the doubters and gunning to win, what has proved to be, an elusive NBA Championship.
Jesse Paguaga is a regular contributor to Baseball Digest. He writes as an intern on the Bleacher Report website. Jesse writes for Gotham Baseball, along with Gotham Hoops and Gotham Gridiron. He can be reached at Paguaga@usc.edu and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/@jpags77
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