Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Enjoy Him While You Can

NOTE: This column was written before Lebron's incredible performance in the 109-104 OT thriller over Boston. The Cavaliers dealt the Celtics just there second loss of the season. Lebron scored 38 points, including 11 in OT and 14-15 from the line. Oh, did I mention his 13 assists?

"...and with the first pick of the 2007 draft, the Portland Trailblazers pick LeBron James."Sound far fetched? Not really, since LeBron would have been picked in this past year's draft had he gone to college and stayed all four years. I hope this scenario accomplishes two things: 1. You appreciate the level of greatness he has achieved at the ripe old age of 22. 2. You appreciate that the Cavs actually have him. I remember growing up and savoring any mention of a Cleveland athlete in the national media. The SI with Joe Carter and Cory Snyder was a remarkable thing. I realize that did not turn out very well, but it was still so cool to see my team on the cover back then. Now, one of our players has his own shoe, an SNL hosting appearance, and his own bubble gum flavor. Pretty wild stuff.

Yet to me, the most intriguing part of LeBron is that at every stage of his development, his doubters have voiced their opinion louder than his supporters. Yet, he continues to get even better and defy the Mr. Negativities that saturate the media landscape. Let's think about the following:

When he was drafted, many said that he could not live up to the hype - that the pros were much better than St. Ignatius or St. Agnes. By the way, did the Cavs surround him with nurturing veterans that could show him the ropes? Not exactly. They gave him the most selfish player (Ricky Davis) and the most unmotivated player (Darius Miles) in recent memory. It was kind of like having Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan babysit your 12 year-old daughter. You just hope you come home and she doesn't have a tattoo, a boyfriend named Brody or Spencer, and a belly piercing. So, what does LeBron do with this motley crew? He avoids caving to negative peer pressure (pretty unusual behavior for an 18 year-old) and gets Ricky D. a one way to ticket to irrelevance. He also helps the Cavs win 18 more games than the year before and gets them within a game of the playoffs.

Last year, there was a talk of exhaustion from a busy offseason and an overall lack of caring or effort. One scribe even said that he was likely the next Martina Hingis. The result? The first NBA finals appearance in team history,which was highlighted by a playoff game performance for the ages.

Going into the year, there were again cries that LeBron was too busy being a Global Icon and not working on his jumper, his free throws, or his marital vows (remember only white QBs get to have babies out of wedlock). The rose of the Finals appearance had quickly wilted and the Cavs were victims of a double shakedown by a couple of role players that would have made Paulie and Furio blush.

His first game of the year was a disaster as he was scoreless in the first half en route to a 2 for 11 performance. Or was it a disaster after all? Perhaps it was a message to management, his team, and the league that this is what the Cavs are without me. That game is now a distant memory as LeBron is averaging over 30-8-8. These are indeed NBA Live 08 numbers.

So, what does this mean? In my opinion, he is the best player in the league. End of story. Perhaps end of the decade. Why? Because he could do anything anyone else can do in the league. If you put him on Phoenix, there is little doubt in my mind that he could match Nash's assists numbers. If you put him on Orlando and said that he has play in the low post, he could match Howard's rebounds and blocks. If you extracted his conscious, he would outscore Kobe nightly. If you let Jeff Van Gundy coach him, he could keep the other team (and his own team) from scoring 80 points a game.

Does this mean that he is perfect? Absolutely not. He still struggles from the line (75% should be the goal - few great men of his size have ever shot better than that). He could learn to move without the ball better. He could learn to be a little more consistent in his effort. However, people have to remember that basketball is a 48 minute game of chase and you can't sprint the whole time. To me, LeBron's supposed weaknesses are actually great news. He still has upside, which is a wonderful thing to have at age 22! Even better than that, he is ours for another few years.

Remember, having a star like LeBron is like dating the hottest girl in the school. After a while, you start taking her for granted. You get annoyed by her once cute flaws. You start to think that you could do better. The next you know, you are broken up. The problem is that you are still you, and she is still the hottest girl in the school. Is this a stretched analogy? Not really. If LeBron leaves, he will still be LeBron, and we will still be Cleveland fans.

So, the message is, shut up and enjoy this while it lasts, just in case it ends in a few years...

Posted by: Stat Guru MG

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