It has been more than two years, it was February of 2012, when I wrote a piece on LeBron; in fact it was the piece that was originally asking ‘what is wrong with LeBron?’ In February 2012, LeBron was an “untitled” (meaning without an NBA title…) superstar, who was criticized for not being Michael Jordan. In the original piece, I concluded that LeBron is not and should not be compared with MJ as he is simply a different player; a player that is brilliant in his own way. However, I also concluded that winning a title would make all the difference in LeBron’s approach to the game and he would be able to show to all of us who he really is. In June 2014, after winning two titles and two Finals’ MVPs, LeBron’s abilities and leadership are again being criticized. So, I have to ask for a second time: what is wrong with LeBron?
At this very moment that this piece is being written, LeBron James has declared himself a free-agent – which, he will effectively be from the 1st of July 2014. This is a turn in things that many did not expect, when LeBron joined forces with Wade and Bosh. However, here we are, 4 years after ‘the decision’, talking again about possible destinations for ‘the King’. But, is LeBron seriously considering to leave Miami or do we really love talking about him and his decisions? I think this is the main question here, and I believe the answer is that for one more time we create stories about our favourite hero; LeBron James is the most popular fictional character out there.
What I am saying here, is that is not LeBron’s fault if once again we expect from him things that he had never promised he will deliver. In other words, there is nothing wrong with LeBron if he simply is not as determined as MJ or Kobe are (see ‘What is the next MJ’). It is mostly the fact that we need the best player of the league to follow MJ’s model; it is our problem that we imagine him being an MJ type of player, even though he showed us in any possible way that he is not. What else do we expect to see or hear from him to be sure? The man said to the media after game 4 of 2014 NBA Finals, where his team was destroyed for the second time in a row in his own house that:
“I understand it’s the media and the sport is the greatest sport in the world. I love it. It’s done so many great things for me, but it’s just basketball. It’s just basketball.”
I believe that there is no better way in telling us to leave him alone to play the game he loves, while at the same time showing us that the burden of carrying his own expectations and the unreal expectations of all those that imagine him in their own ways is unbearable. To put it simply, LeBron is the best player the game today has but he is not MJ and his basketball dreams as well as the way he wants to play the game differ fundamentally from our views about him. MJ used to say that basketball was everything to him and I believe him, however, I believe that basketball is very important for LeBron too, if not equally important, but the main difference and what LeBron is trying to say to us is that basketball does not define him.
LeBron loves the game, he adores it, but he is not obsessed with it, while I believe that MJ and Kobe (maybe Kobe even more) define themselves through the game; their whole personality revolves around their basketball dominance. Domination is not LeBron’s main thing and this is something that we should understand; he loves the game in a different way, in a less competitive way. LeBron, then, chooses to downgrade publicly the importance basketball has in his life, to show to everybody that is a different type of superstar and stop the ongoing comparisons of himself with players such MJ and Kobe whose main characteristic is their obsession to dominate.
LeBron, I argue, does not want to be compared with players of this type, because he does not possess the killer instinct these guys have. However, this does not make him a lesser basketball player, but it makes him a different type of superstar – one that is not looking to dominate and humiliate his opponents. LeBron wants to win his own way and wants to leave his own legacy; he does not want to continue MJ’s legacy as Kobe did, to some extent. LeBron is of course a very competitive guy, he wouldn’t be the best if he weren’t, but he does not have the killer’s instinct that MJ and Kobe do. He is more relaxed and prefers to be around other superstars and enjoy the game with them rather than competing against them; this is why he joined Miami at first place. He is not the lone-wolf type of guy that will try to dominate all by himself and in any possible way. He is more of a team-player than MJ and Kobe, he does not seem to care about drawing all the attention and prefers to share the spotlight with other superstars.
All in all, I argue that the answer to the question ‘what is wrong with LeBron’ is nothing. I do not know him personally, but I think nothing is wrong with him, he is just who he is and the sooner we realize that the better for all of us. I believe that he will, eventually, stay with the Heat, but even if he leaves for a better destination, according to his preferences and wishes, there will be nothing wrong – there will be only a different approach to winning than the one we are used to (look for the best circumstances elsewhere instead of trying to create them). Thus, we need to realize that LeBron is a different superstar than MJ and his legacy is going to be different. If we prefer MJ’s approach to the game instead of LeBron’s, it is our problem and not his. The one thing that it is certain is that he is not who we would like him to be and it is probably for the best. It is time to rethink the image we have of how the NBA’s best player should be even if this means that the whole concept of ‘the American dream’, which MJ personifies, has to be revised.