Almost There

I have begrudgingly begun to accept the fact that LeBron James is on the verge of actually winning an NBA Championship ring.  To be completely candid with you, I hate the simple thought of it.  The thing that really irks me about this practically imminent world of the existence is that I (and I think I’m in the majority… somewhere around a 65/35 split) was so sure it was going to happen differently.

About midway through the 4th quarter of Game 7, I knew the Heat were going to be playing in the Finals against OKC.  The Celtics finally just broke.  All engines firing, full-steam ahead.  Boom.  Over.  But I thought I had an ace up my sleeve.  After the first two incredible rounds and then the dismantling of the Spurs, I thought OKC was sure to bring the thunder to South Beach.  Bonus pun.

Instead, LBJ has been lighting up the court and is on his way to a ring.  But it’s not enough to suddenly admit that he’s great.  Sorry, I’m still not selling yet.

Before I continue, allow me to address a few things.

First and foremost, I am the original LBHater.  I invented the Anti-James bandwagon and I currently preside as the CEO and 5-Star General of the I Hate LeBron James club.  I came out of the womb prepared to hate on LeBron James.  Anyone harboring ill-will in Ohio**, you may send your membership fees to my PO Box.

**I’ve got to believe those numbers have currently got to equal or surpass the amount that hopped to my side when he held “The Decision”… it’s like the Seattle Zombie Sonic virus.

Secondly, this is the best way I can explain what is happening right now.  Imagine that you are an average kid in a medium neighborhood.  Everyone your age is pretty much on the same level; you’re all friends.  Except for that one kid.  It’s probably fair to say that everyone comes from the same income pool (give or take)—and that kid has rich parents that “wanted to get away from the city” or something.

Suddenly we’ve been pushed to the outside…

So everyone’s got video games.  Some kids are only rocking Nintendo 64s and PS1s… but it’s still video games.  Most kids are at least rocking PS2 and Xbox.  You got lucky and somehow ended up with an Xbox 360 or a PS3—you’re on that premium ish.  Other kids have them too, but not many.  So for right now, you’re one of the neighborhood kings (or queens?).  Even that rich kid isn’t quite on your level.  Every year, he acts like he’s getting some super-top shelf system.  And every year, it’s all talk—nothing materializes.  You have ONE thing that he doesn’t have.

Now the Xbox 720/PS4 is coming out.  So you’re saving your money and doing everything in your power so that when that stuff hits the market, you’ve got enough to be the first to have it.  Maintain that advantage.

Except it’s $700 and right now you’ve got $615.  It’s 11pm and that ish drops at midnight.

You’re probably feeling pretty crushed to fall short.

But it gets worse.

That rich kid?  It’s his birthday.  And he’s pretending like he’s getting a 720/PS4.

Your gut says don’t sweat it.  He always says that and it never happens.  You don’t care, you’re gonna get it next week anyways.

And while you’re standing at Walmart/Target/Best Buy drooling over the display, you see his parents paying for one at the checkout.

He finally has one and there’s nothing you can do about it.

That is how I feel.

Except worse.

One more thing to make you aware of.  My ill feelings towards LeBron is one of those sports things that transcends logic.  Yankees fans hate Dustin Pedroia and Red Sox fans hate Derek Jeter.  It doesn’t matter how good those individuals are, it’s a sports thing.  A “true” Yankees fan just won’t admit that Pedroia is a spectacular player.  Tiger Woods fans will walk away from you if you try to convince them that Tiger has lost “it” and isn’t getting “it” back.

It doesn’t matter what facts or stats you put in front of me.  Years ago, I came to a crossroads: I could embrace LeBron or I could hate him.  I chose to hate him.  The same thing happened when Bill Russell hit the scene.  Same as Michael Jordan.  Same as Larry Bird.  Same as Anthony Davis.

It’s a weird relationship.  There is nothing that will get me to drop my opinion**.

**It’s not impossible.  It recently happened to me with Derek Jeter.  As a lifelong O’s fan, I frown on all that is pinstriped.  But about 3 or 4 years ago, I suddenly realized that Derek Jeter is a great player (regardless of uniform).

So now let’s talk about LeBron James.

Even though it’s painfully obvious that LeBron James is about to win a ring, it does not catapult him into the level of greatness.  A ring is not a free pass.

I’ve watch every series of the 2011-2012 NBA playoffs.  Some matchups I really didn’t care to pay much attention to.  But as a Celtics fan, I had a few teams on my radar all the time.  I was following up on the extent of Derrick Rose’s injury before most of the world knew he went down.  I followed Roy Hibbert’s play when Indy’s upset looked like solid potential and I factored in Chris Bosh’s injury when the Heat prevailed.

I’m well aware of LeBron’s performance.  I saw on my ESPN app a Coors Light “Cold Hard Fact” something that caught my eye:

LeBron James is the first player in NBA history with at least 650 points, 200 rebound and 100 assists in a single postseason.

Here’s another:

LeBron James has scored at least 25 points in each of his last 14 games, matching his own NBA postseason record.

That’s statistical evidence that I can’t refute.  Nothing I can think up or research can dispel those facts.

He’s still not “great”.

An alignment of stars

It seems like a tired argument, but I think it certainly registers as valid.  He didn’t perform like this in Cleveland.  He had to join Wade and Bosh and form a power-combo to win a ring.

He needed Dwayne Wade because he couldn’t do it alone.  Maybe this is James 85% and Wade 14% and Bosh 1%.  Maybe it’s 33% James, 57% Wade, 10% Bosh.  It doesn’t matter.

And to be fair, the same can be said about Dwayne Wade.  Wade needed Shaq to win a title.  Bullshit?  Ok, tell me how many titles Wade brought back to Miami after Shaq was gone…  I’ll wait.

It ended up being a symbiotic relationship.  They needed each other.

To me, that makes the 2011-2012 Miami Heat great.  It’s a TEAM that won a title.

LeBron James won zero titles as the star in Cleveland.  We’ll probably never know how many titles LeBron James is worth because he  will likely never be the only star on a team.

I’ve actually got TWO rings!

If you want some crooked logic, that puts LeBron James: Champion on the same level as Luc Longley: Champion or Adam Morrison: Champion.

And I’ll hop to the side  for a moment and say this: he brought the negativity on himself.  Had he been a more personable person… someone that basketball rallied around (as they do for Durant or Kobe)… then maybe LeBron could be “great” with one title (maybe zero?).  But he let his aspirations be too public.  He cast the spotlight on his own failures.

If LeBron has always been capable of putting up these numbers, why didn’t it happen in Cleveland?  Why couldn’t he bring a title back to his hometown?

The simple answer is that he didn’t have the help.  The complex answer is that he didn’t have star help.  Antawn Jamison is no Dwayne Wade and Anderson Varajao is no Chris Bosh.

Full-circle, fellas.  He needed the Heat team he is on now.

I don’t think he was going to beat the Boston Celtics.  He needed Shane Battier to hit those 3s and he needed Mario Chalmers to do work.  He needed this Heat team.

That’s the difference between Cavs James and Heat James.  Cavs James did not have the right team to beat the Celtics and win titles.  Heat James has the tools.

That’s why I won’t say that he’s great.  But there’s light at the tunnel.

It was a TEAM thing.

Consider it a victory that I am admitting that this team (James included) is a championship team.  I tip my cap to them.

But I think it has more to do with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.  Shane Battier and Mike Miller.  Udonis Haslem and Norris Cole.  Mario Chalmers and Juwan Howard.  THEY took James to the level he wanted to be on.

LeBron James is about to be a champion.  But as long as people acknowledge that this TEAM won him the title, I can accept it.

Win one as a true star and maybe I’ll lift my James embargo.

Oh, and I think I read it on Grantland, but I read something that said something I agree with.  LeBron took a beating for years from the Celtics.  They kept beating him until finally he learned what it took to conquer them.  That’s something I admire.  Hopefully he is about to do to Kevin Durant what Boston did to him.

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