The NBA is built on symbols. Jerry West is in their very logo. Michael Jordan is the symbol for reaching pinnacles of greatness. Shaq was Power. Spud Webb was the little man who could.
The league had these pillars to build its legend upon and market its mystique which would grow and change as the years go on. But only on the level that people would challenge Mount Olympus, but dare not break through the cloud line.
As much as we are fascinated with Kobe being the next Michael, KD being the next Bird, Porzingis the next Dirk, the powers that be and the branding never want it to be true.
This plan has worked out to a T thus far but….
Then along came LeBron James.
The player who could pass like Magic, score like Michael, defend like Pippen and rebound like Malone.
He was and is a player beyond definition, yet that’s why he’s so good for the league.
When I look at all the hate LeBron has taken from critics, I see the reality of a player who is challenging the establishment. To his credit, it’s the gauntlet every megastar must endure.
I won’t argue why LeBron is better than each player—be it rings, numbers, percentage in Finals. The criteria are vague and often unsupported aside from taking the side that does not play in his favor.
He has 4 MVPs in 13 years, but one could argue he’s been the best player since 2007.
We criticize him for leaving Cleveland, but not the franchise for failing to give him his Pippen/Rodman, making it his need to go to Miami.
We say he is not a typical superstar because he doesn’t want the last shot, but we do so in an era where we support franchises that look for the best shot instead of iso ball, a scheme he embodies as one player.
We say the league is softer now and it’s easier for him, but don’t allow for the idea that hand checking would have made him an incredibly dominant defender.
All to say, I feel we hold sacred the idea that legends of the game hold a certain mystique. Breaking that tradition like LeBron did, using The Decision to bring the power from the owners to the players dilutes our view of his greatness.
I would just say that while fandom is great—don’t forget to enjoy the ride.