LeBron James and Derrick Rose are ready to give sports fans reason to rejoice in the 2011 NBA Eastern Conference finals, offering them some much-needed relief from what has been a difficult post-Super Bowl depression.
Whether it’s the brutal NFL lockout process, Rashard Mendenhall’s ill-conceived tweets or the tragic deaths of a number of athletes, the last few months have been filled with plenty of lows and almost no highs.
But thanks to a pair of megastars who aren’t even 30 years of age yet, all that is about to change.
This is what we all have been waiting for since last July, when LeBron James announced his intentions on what will go down as one of the worst public relations gaffes in sports history.
The reasons behind “The Decision” have been widely speculated, and many of those potential reasons provided the public with a glimpse into who the King really was.
Derrick Rose distinguished himself this summer when he refused to dwell on the possibility of James running with the Bulls.
One of the most awkward superstars in the NBA, someone who could barely pass a college entrance exam, uttered one of the most brilliant and bold observations in recent memory.
Rose wondered aloud why he couldn’t be the NBA MVP. He wondered aloud why he couldn’t be the best player in the league.
In other words, he wondered why he couldn’t be the "Chosen One."
Rose’s handling of the summer of LeBron illustrated the sharp contrasts between two of the most poetic athletes the NBA has ever seen.
These differences create a fascinating subplot to what likely will be the most watched Eastern Conference finals in recent years.
LeBron James has been a household name since he was a teenager, when he dazzled at youth tournaments and had college recruiters drooling. By the time he was a high school junior, those recruiters knew there was no way this kid would set foot on a college campus.
At age 17, LeBron already had the physical talents of a grown man.
And in some ways, he had the maturity of a man, relying on friends to guide him through his teenage years while his mom battled personal issues.
It wasn’t until James began ransacking the competition at St. Vincent-Saint Mary’s that mother Gloria James stepped back into his life.
For all of his positives as a person, there was no question the fame was impossible for James to ignore and enjoy.
The sense of entitlement displayed by James and his loyal disciples was a huge turn-off for many sports fans, who found themselves being either jealous or enraged by his antics.
Once he put on the Cleveland Cavaliers uniform, his polarizing ways reached new heights. He single-handedly dominated the competition, offering a number of historic performances in big games—performances that the critics tend to forget.
James was a like a 21-year-old Magic Johnson on steroids with an ever-improving jump shot. And the NBA had never seen anything like it.
Meanwhile, the quiet kid from Chicago spent his young life being schooled by his older brothers and quietly became the most coveted recruit in the country.
From Day One at Memphis, the media wondered if Rose had the assertiveness to translate talent into results.
John Calipari constantly implored Rose to take control of what was a deep, talented squad, and got widely varying results from his baby-faced freshman.
Rose was often reluctant to shoot and posted somewhat underwhelming statistics despite playing in woeful Conference-USA.
With “disappointing” performances came more criticism, regarding Rose’s ability to be a pure point guard, if he wanted to be a leader and exactly how he would fare at the next level.
It got so bad that when fate handed the Bulls the first pick in the 2008 NBA draft, talk radio in Chicago was filled with heated debate.
Should the Bulls really place the weight of the franchise on another hometown kid? Would the passive Rose ever be a star, or would he follow in the footsteps of Thornwood alum Eddy Curry and become a bust?
But take Michael Beasley? Seriously?
In the end, Chicago made the most logical choice, and it didn’t take long for the assertiveness most believed Rose lacked to manifest itself.
By the end of his second season, Rose was taking over late in games and working tirelessly on improving his defense.
He was leading by example, not by his words—that is until constant prodding by reporters drew his famous comments regarding Mr. James
The differences don’t stop there, but there is no sense in traveling too far down memory lane. We have ESPN to treat us with revisionist history ad nauseum.
In the end, the similarities between the two stars are few and far between. Sure, both possess incredible strength, agility and explosion. Both have a well-rounded game and a basketball IQ many NBA veterans will never have.
Ultimately, the biggest similarity is that the legacies of both players have already been written even with an incomplete body of work.
Before we call James a selfish jerk or anoint Rose as the next Jordan, we should sit back and watch the superstars go head-to-head.
Adrian Wojnarowski and the sports writer pundits are standing by to write big-picture “What does this mean” columns, but instead of falling into the trap of thinking about the future, sports fans should focus on the present.
So close your laptops, turn off those pregame shows, grab a cold one and sit back and watch Rose and James do battle on the court.
And whatever you do, don’t worry about the potential NBA lockout.
Here’s hoping tonight’s madness on Madison will be the first movement in what will be a decade-long symphony between Derrick Rose and LeBron James.
I, for one, absolutely cannot wait for the games to begin.
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