LeBron James: Monster Expectations
LeBron James is the NBA’s darling.
From the moment he entered the collective consciousness of the basketball public he has captured our attention and mesmerized us with his potential and ability. His unprecedented high school career alone made history; the sheer scope of a HS senior’s ability forced ESPN to put the gold and green of St. Vincent St. Mary’s on national television. A high school team on ESPN. That had never happened before, and similar occurrences that have come afterwards are all in a hope to capture the same manner of clairvoyant view into a young man’s future. The haters were around, they always are. But for the most part, people have been down with LeBron since day one – and still are.
Two years into his NBA career and James is still on the honeymoon. Still sipping champagne while dunking on some poor sap twice his age with half his talent. LeBron James isn’t just being successful in this league, he’s damn near monopolizing it. In two years he has gone from potential packed phenom, to among, if not above, names like Iverson, Bryant, McGrady, and Carter, guys who were the stars of the league for the past five years or more. LeBron James is everywhere and being loved by just about everyone. He is spectacular, dazzling, oozing with star appeal, and yes, he’s got more game in his fingernails then any of the haters will have in their lifetime. So the question rises, why shouldn’t we love LeBron? The answer, I think, is a simple one. And if it isn’t apparent by now, it will be soon.
For as much as we adore our new star and awe at his ability, LeBron James has yet to win anything other than the adoration of his fans. LeBron has yet to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy, MVP award, or even step out onto the floor of an NBA Playoff game. And therein lie the problem, the chink in the King James’ armor, and the bump in his golden brick road. One can only be sustained in the public eye by high scoring average and spectacular highlights for so long. “He has surpassed the hype,” we say. But a star, no matter how individually gifted or beloved, can only last so long before a new mountainous set of expectations are heaped upon him. Simply put, the honeymoon is about to be over.
There is a monster that no hero can escape; it is the monster of
expectations. The monster is nearly invincible for this reason: the greater hero becomes, the more the monster grows. LeBron has indeed surpassed the initial expectations, he has gone far beyond what anyone expected from a high school kid jumping to the League. LeBron James is a superstar now, and thus, he is expected to do what superstars do – win. Gone is the comparatively low set bar of putting up numbers and making highlight reels. Replacing it is the expectations of unprecedented success, individually and for his team. LeBron is possibly the most talented player in the league, but
as the monster of expectations grows, that won’t be enough. When people think of greatness, they think of championships, of which LeBron currently has none. But he’s only twenty years old. Isn’t he years away from that level of success? Yes, realistically he is. Realistically, a twenty year old without a game of college basketball under his belt shouldn’t be the league’s best player. Realistically, LeBron James shouldn’t even exist. Thus far he has been a freak of nature, an aberration to sports logic. LeBron is, defying expectations and odds left and right and as such fans will demand he continue to do so until he tops out. When and where LeBron will eventually stop soaring is a mystery, right now not even the sky seems a feasible limit. LeBron has done things no one else has ever done before. Winning a championship before twenty-five is yet another unrealistic goal fans will expect LeBron to meet.
Adding further to the expectations is the recent roster moves made by Cleveland this off-season. In his first two seasons with Cleveland, LeBron has lacked the supporting cast necessary for real success. That excuse is gone. Despite failing to snag either Ray Allen or Michael Redd, the Cavs have done plenty to upgrade their roster. Most notably they signed free agent Larry Hughes, pairing LeBron with legitimate twenty point scorer and First Team Defensive player. Veteran four man, Donyell Marshall also comes over to the Cavs bringing rebounds and perimeter shooting to a team that could use a little more of both. Zydrunas Ilgauskas also got re-signed so LBJ has still got his big man in the middle. The supporting cast is there, and LeBron is certainly not lacking the talent to take over games.
The happy outcome, the easy thought – no matter how unlikely it is – is that LeBron will meet this new set of expectations. That he will win, win big, and win soon. Only in a perfect world. The truth is when, not if, LeBron fails to win it big the tides of public opinion will turn on him. In his future no longer will LeBron simply existing and flourishing in the regular season satisfy fans. Instead they will demand his emergence and success in the postseason. And when the lust for LeBron is not satisfied, the views of the press and fans will shift, from a league ambassador to just another scoring machine without a ring. The moment, LeBron James is one step off the unfair pace set for him by the media and the fans, they will turn on him, and judge him for not being the god among men the League believes it so desperately needs. And every season he doesn’t win a championship, the monster will grow bigger, and bigger, and bigger. This monster of expectations will only be slain when the hero reaches the pinnacle of his journey. When that happens for LeBron James is another discussion all together, but this much is sure: LeBron will win a championship before his journey is over. Until then, he continues to battle the monster he helped create.
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