LeBron James will never be a god.
In this new golden era of technological connectivity, in which everything is recorded, analyzed, scrutinized, and archived, superstardom has been forced to change its face. Once upon a time, celebrities of all kinds were nothing more than perfect faces plastered on magazine covers or enormous, daunting images on silver screens. They were untouchable, unknowable, and that was their allure: enigmatic beings who somehow were what we all strove to be.
No longer is that the case. Now, we are so connected with celebrities that we feel we are part of their lives, and that, as such, they owe us things. We see their thoughts on places like Twitter, candid photos on Instagram, and videos of their lives on YouTube and Facebook.
They owe us these inside looks, we feel.
What’s more is that we demand perfection. If something is amiss in any way, shape or form, we will notice it and we will criticize it. We will remind them of it and we will remind each other of it, and we will never let it die.
Such is the life for LeBron James, and has been since he entered the NBA in 2003 as an 18-year-old teenager. As he’s grown, social media and technology in general has blossomed, and together these two ingredients have produced something inevitable and new: the first NBA superstar to be excruciatingly dissected game by game, moment by moment for the majority of his career.
We were there to overanalyze his admittedly bizarre final game during his first incarnation with the Cavs, in which his team lost to a well-oiled Boston club in 2010; we hammered him for sitting down on live television to announce The Decision the following summer; we mocked and gasped and scratched our heads during his Finals meltdown against Dallas in 2011; and, most recently, we shook Twitter to its proverbial core with richter scale-level takes about his greatness following a single bad outing against the Celtics in Game 3 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals.
Those are just a few choice examples.
And yet, throughout it all—and what a testament it is—LeBron’s basketball genius has finally grabbed us by our throats and pulled us into the unstable waters of the “Who is the GOAT?” debate to stack him up against the most revered basketball player of all-time—Michael Jordan.
Air Jordan didn’t have his career squished onto a microscope slide to be examined and picked apart. He was never subject to the same blistering over-analyzation that LeBron is. Imagine the excitement that would boil on the Internet today if Jordan did this or this while we were watching with keyboards at our fingertips. Imagine also the reactions to Jordan ditching the game of basketball to pursue a stint in baseball, or to his known gambling habits, or to his “Republicans buy shoes, too” comment.
We would have been in awe with the former, and crucified him for the latter. Neither would be forgotten.
As it stands, MJ’s legacy survives largely unsullied. Partly due to the fact that his career was not under the same strains that LeBron’s is, but also simply because of time (by now, if you’re under the age of 30, it’s likely you never saw Jordan play). Time heals all wounds they say, and what would you rather remember about the greatest basketball player ever—his mistakes or his spectacular highlight reels?
In an essay entitled, “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact,” theorist Hayden White discusses how a series of chronological events (History Proper) recorded as a body of writing (History as Narrative) shapes our understanding of those historical events. Historical narratives, he says, are “verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much invented as found.” He goes on to note that these verbal fictions are packaged together in order to make you, the listener or reader or viewer, feel a certain way about the event(s).
This is what we’ve done with Michael Jordan. We’ve taken the history of his best and brightest and packaged it together in a series of verbal and written hyperboles, weaving a singular, fluid tapestry that exists in order to make people feel a certain way about him.
This tapestry has become gospel for so many that when you ask them why Jordan’s the greatest player of all-time, they’ll merely shrug and say, “He just is,” or the slightly more knowledgeable but still irritating, “He’s got six rings.”
He’s just the greatest. Has six rings. Add it to the tapestry.
In a 1996 New York Times article entitled, “Like a Superhero, Jordan Is There to Save the Bulls if Ever They Should Slip,” journalist Ira Berkow writes this about the Bulls’ superstar: “Jordan often sees issues clearly […] he can be Superman, or at least Captain Marvel.”
Jordan is a superhero. Add it to the tapestry.
In Michael Jordan: The Life, Roland Lazenby’s fantastic and definitive biography of His Airness, there’s a chapter called “The God of Basketball.” In it, Lazenby explains how during a 1992 trip to Barcelona—just before the Olympics—Jordan played in a game with a bunch of Spanish professionals in which he utterly dominated such that it led “fans and media alike to declare that the ‘god of the basketball’ had descended into their presence.”
We made Michael Jordan into a god.
These are but the tip of the iceberg, but what we’ve woven is, of course, untrue. Michael was not and is not a god. Does that mean he’s not the greatest basketball player to have ever played? No, it doesn’t—he very well might be. And one can also not blame the journalists and writers who have written in such a way. They’re storytellers with a job to do. It’s sports. It’s fun. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t helped fabricate the Jordan myth.
Jordan had many shortcomings throughout his career. It took him seven seasons to win an NBA championship—the same amount of time it took LeBron—and prior to that there were many who were skeptical of calling him the best they’d ever seen. He was plagued early on in the playoffs by Milwaukee, Boston, and then the Bad Boy Pistons, who sent him packing three postseasons in a row and forced him into some of his worst-ever playoff performances. One such time was Game 5 of the 1989 postseason, in which MJ went 5–15 from the field in 43 minutes of action and sent the Bulls spiralling into a tizzy, losing the next two games to Detroit and effectively ending their run.
Even after Jordan broke through and had become a well-established champion, he wasn’t impervious to bad games. In Game 4 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals against Miami, for example, Jordan shot 9–35 from the floor over the course of 45 minutes. Needless to say, the Bulls didn’t win that one.
But if you go to YouTube and search for “bad Michael Jordan games,” you’ll only wind up with a few videos showcasing some of MJ’s failures—the rest will be the highlights we’ve all come to know so well. Search for LeBron’s bad games, however, and you can imagine how that plays out.
We know Jordan had bad games, we know he had faults, we know he had the Wizards years, so why do we choose to toss them aside for the betterment of the tapestry? We do it because it’s more functional—it makes all of the brilliance we saw on the court easier to understand if the rest simply is forgotten. Even in the overarching narrative of the NBA—that the 1980s revived basketball and then Jordan took it to the next, highest level—relies on the unblemished version of the tapestry.
For many, Michael Jordan will always be a god—everything is simpler if we accept him to be—unassailable in any basketball conversation. But as the ancient mythologies warn us, even gods are liable to fall given time and a proper obstacle—and perhaps that’s just what this recent LeBron-Michael debate is.
Maybe, just maybe, the greatness of LeBron James will be what pushes us to finally take Jordan off the pedestal and inspect him, for the first time in a long time, for what he really is: a mortal man who may be the greatest basketball player who’s ever lived.
And you know what? That’s not such a bad reality to wake up to.
Year 15 | A Mini Documentary
Something Out of Nothing
It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.
We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.
Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.
It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.
We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.
I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.
Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.
The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).
Stay tuned, because it’s not over.
Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers
Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?
Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.
Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.
Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.
Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting.
These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA:
- 14.6 Points
- 7.6 Assists
- 6.0 Rebounds
- 1.8 Steals
- 0.8 Blocks
- 55.1 FG%
- 41.2 3P%
He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.
Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.
He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.
|2012||Damian Lillard (co-MVPs)||PG||Portland Trail Blazers|
|Josh Selby (co-MVPs)||PG||Memphis Grizzlies|
|2013||Jonas Valančiūnas||C||Toronto Raptors|
|2014||Glen Rice Jr.||SG||Washington Wizards|
|2015||Kyle Anderson||SF||San Antonio Spurs|
|2016||Tyus Jones||PG||Minnesota Timberwolves|
|2017||Lonzo Ball||PG||Los Angeles Lakers|
With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.
The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.
Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.
If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.
Year 15 | A Mini Documentary
An Ode to the 2007-2008 Warriors
USA VS EVERYBODY | The Break | Episode 17
Trading Places | The Break | Episode 18
February Fouls | The Break | Episode 16
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Western Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 1
Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
NBA & More Mailbag with Josh Howe — TWT 102
Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview with Keith Parish — TWT 101
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