LeBron James will never be Michael Jordan.
He will never be Magic Johnson.
I don’t view him as Scottie Pippen, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell either.
This is not because James won’t win as many championships, MVP's, scoring titles or become a global icon; I see James for the type of player and person he is.
He will always and forever just be LeBron James, and he doesn’t have to win six championships or win a certain way to justify his talent.
Yes, since he was fresh-faced teen, James has in some form or another been called the "Chosen One" or the "King." To many who watched him under-perform in the postseason with the Cleveland Cavaliers and now in this most recent NBA Finals as a member of the Miami Heat, they will consider James’ legacy tarnished as a fraud and not worthy of ever being mentioned in the same sentence as the now-retired, accomplished NBA gods before him.
In the hours after the Dallas Mavericks toppled the Heat in Game 6 to win their first world title, the examination James' performance immediately began and overshadowed Dallas' post-series celebration.
There were discussions about James shrinking under the pressure of the big stage. Analysts were dissecting every shot, every facial expression and every body function in between.
At one point the ESPN basketball crew was wondering if James participating in AAU ball as a youngster had something to do with inability to seal the deal in the playoffs. Others were wondering if being raised by a teen single mom in Akron, Ohio has affected his psyche throughout his postseason career.
That is something Jordan, Johnson, Pippen and others never had to deal with.
They never played in an era were a young athlete was viewed as the next someone, and they never had to deal with being the savior of a franchise/city only months after their high school senior proms were over. Those men never had to deal with 24/7/365 analysis of on-court and off-the-court matters.
They were never thought of as pro athletes when they were amateurs and never forced to live up to sometimes unrealistic expectations.
Now, it's understood James’ own comments and actions have not done him any favors over the years. But he is a 26-year-old still learning and evolving as a player and person under the very harsh spotlight of the public eye.
At one point during the NBA Finals it seemed as if James not only had to outperform the Mavericks, but also Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade, who through the first three games was the odds-on favorite to win NBA Finals MVP. Even when the Heat won Game 3, James' performance was criticized. Even when James tallied a triple-double in defeat, the scrutiny was even worse.
When James wins, he loses, and when James loses, he loses.
If the Heat had somehow managed to win the championship, James probably still would have lost. His detractors would have said he needed to be part of a super team to get a ring, Wade carried him or he took the easy way out.
Now that Miami has failed in pursuit of a championship, suddenly Wade—who couldn’t wait to tell the media he was still the face of the franchise and the undisputed leader of the team when he was averaging nearly 30 points per game—does not share in any of the blame for how the series ultimately transpired.
The press and basketball observers around the country shouldered all of the blame on James.
How he was unable to win a title with a ready-made team where he played the role of general manager is the story now. That is something none of the great players before James had to endure.
Does he deserve blame for being bad in the fourth quarter in the last four games of the biggest series of his life? Yes he does. He didn’t live up to the standards that come along with being the best player in the league, so James should be criticized for that.
But those are the only standards he should have ever had to live up to—his own, not sports writers', fans' or guys' whose careers ended before James played his first NBA game.
As a result, when you have the press itching to lift current players to the status of Hall of Fame players, people who remember how great those legends were are forced to explain in detail to the young folks and all of those who forgot how those achievements far surpass them.
It really is unfortunate because injustices are created along the way; we minimize how great the old heads were by manufacturing hurried comparisons and measurements. In the process, we don't appreciate how great James and other current stars are and actively diminish their accomplishments because in our eyes, they aren't quite as great as their predecessors.
We continue to look for and magnify any blemishes that solidify our stance as to why James will never be better than fill-in-the-blank-former NBA royalty.
Could James be a more mature and skilled basketball player? Sure. Should James be cautious of what comes out of his mouth and how he carries himself? Without question.
Hopefully he will make those adjustments in those areas, not so much to be like Mike or to please journalists, bloggers or "the haters," but for himself and for his team.
LeBron has to be LeBron.