LeBron James: Never Enough
LeBron James is not good enough.
He never will be.
When I wrote an article back in 2005 about LeBron James, I was dishing thoughts on the then darling of the league. At that moment, he was doing everything right. And yet the position I took was that in time, everything would change. The view of LeBron would go from a hyped rookie with numbers and a highlight reel to just another scoring star who lacks the ability to win big. To this day I hold that as the truest thing I have ever written. Because, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I was exactly right.
When LeBron James graced the Association with his larger than life talent and presence, he instantly became the league’s poster boy, it’s golden child. He could do no wrong. And for an all too brief a moment it lasted. But with time things changed, not instantly or rapidly, but gradually people’s view of LeBron began to shift. He missed some shots late in games, free-throws down the stretch clanked, he failed to take over games at key moments, and with each small shortcoming something about the way we look at LeBron seemed to change.
LeBron James came into the league as an uber-hyped high school rookie and despite being one of the most highly touted players to ever come into the NBA, no one who knows anything about basketball was expecting him to be anything more than pretty good in his first year. Before LeBron, the best rookie season from any high school player belonged to Amare Stoudemire the year before LBJ came in when Stoudemire averaged about 13 points and 9 boards. Expectations for LeBron were naturally marked slightly above that. When the kid came in and finished with 20, 6, and 5 averages and more importantly improved Cleveland by double digits in the win column, we witnessed an anomaly so seldom seen in the world of sports – someone who surpassed expectations.
We were instantly spoiled. LeBron not only did what we asked of him, he did more. The immediate reaction was, “what else can he do?” And if we followed the logic of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, and Jermaine O’Neal, then LeBron would only get better, much better. By that logic we naturally assumed we could be looking at the greatest player to ever lace up sneakers, and we may still be. But to make that kind of jump so soon is anything but logical. But that didn’t matter, it continues not to matter. In LeBron the media and fans have found someone who does as he’s told, meets the expectations. And from the moment we discovered this, we would not be satisfied with anything less.
LeBron James is quite possibly the most overall talented basketball playing human being on planet earth. And yet with his ever growing ability swells the inconceivable expectations and calls of his inadequacy. There is a direct correlation between how good LeBron is, and how much criticism he takes. The criticism is proportional to his talent; that is to say, every time we sense growth or improvement in LeBron, we simply rush to place more unfair expectations on him and assume our voracious appetites for the impossible will continued to be satisfied.
LeBron was never going to be able to infallibly progress through his career unscathed. At some point we had to realize this would happen. I wrote this once about LeBron, and I find it to be true about a majority of good young players, they must fail before they can succeed. Those expecting LeBron to perpetually improve, are ignoring an important part of any player’s development.
Failure is a necessary part of LeBron’s career. He will fail before he succeeds, he already has. And it is in that, and not perennial success, that he matures and makes himself more like the great player he is meant to be. Failure is part of the full circle that a great highly touted player like LeBron must complete. Initially the expectations are great, when reality sets in and it becomes obvious that struggles will plague this great one like any other one before him, the natural flood of haters comes hard and fast, bringing him back down to earth, turning the tables of public opinion on him and changing what’s expected. Without a doubt I can say the best of LeBron James was witnessed last night, and in game three. With the prognostications stacked against him, not for him, he delivered in the biggest way.
From day one we have been setting up hoops for LeBron to jump through, gleefully watching as each time he entertained us in increasingly dramatic fashion. Along the way no one apparently found the time to consider what would happen when LeBron would be unable to reach the absurdly high bar we’ve set for him. No one, in all this time, seemed able to imagine LeBron not being perfect. Even staunch critics hold the position they do on the grounds that LeBron has the ability “to do better”. Whatever comparisons or judgments you feel compelled to make, remember to maintain some perspective while doing so. LeBron is a 22-year-old fourth year player who is at least five years away from his prime. If you’re ready to call LeBron a failure already you have a perspective that is absurdly short sighted, and yet unfortunately, you would not be in the minority. That being said, you’re also wrong, and probably already admitted your error.
I’m never surprised at how quickly people’s view of things can change. After two games against Detroit many analysts, experts, and fans alike were ready to dismiss Cleveland and LeBron. Never mind two good opportunities to win two close games, it was obvious to every stupid person on the planet that Detroit had the series won. Two games later, two phenomenal performances from LeBron, and all of sudden the bandwagon is back on wheels and rolling with a full load.
And in that, the question that was never asked gets answered. What would happen when LeBron seems invariably unable to achieve the goals we’ve set for him? What happens when he fails and we turn on him? What happens when we doubt him? Game three. Fourth quarter. Tied sixty-eight all, with seven and a half minutes left. LeBron passes up the three and takes it to the rim. Rasheed challenges. And LeBron wrecks one all over Sheed’s grill. That’s what happens.
We’ve created an endless cycle. In that first article back in ’05 I called it the monster of expectations. As LeBron grows, so does the monster. Regardless of what he does or how much he accomplishes, short of winning multiple titles, we will find a way to say it isn’t enough. It’s unfair, but it’s not going to change. As long as LeBron puts on an NBA uniform there will be those who want him to do more than is possible.
LeBron James is better than any other player at this age and stage of their career. He is arguably the most talented player on the planet. He is undeniably one of the top five players in the league. He’s carried a team to the Eastern Conference Finals. Whether you’d care to admit it or not, he is a clutch player. He’s an unbelievable physical specimen with unparalleled skill sets. He’s the face of the NBA. He may end up being the best player to play the game, ever. And yet…
LeBron James is not good enough.
He never will be.