I am a proud graduate of The Ohio State University; I have known about the legend of LeBron James way before ESPN was showing his high school games in primetime.
Back then, if you were in Ohio you always heard about James and Maurice Clarett (Clarett didn’t work out as well as LeBron).
My girlfriend at the time was from Akron, so I was able to catch a few of LeBron’s high school games while I was in college.
A couple of things always stood out to me:
1- He was a gifted passer.
2- He was a totally unselfish player.
3- His teammates loved him.
On his high school team he pretty much played every position, but there was one thing I was 100% sure of.
LeBron James could be a bigger, stronger, and faster version of Magic Johnson.
Like Magic he was a big point guard, had uncanny passing ability, could in a pinch play all five positions on the court, had an infectious personality that spread to his teammates… even his jumper was a bit hit-or-miss.
When he was drafted by the Cavaliers I assumed they would allow him to run the point and surround him with explosive wing players who could be finishers.
I envisioned LeBron leading the league in assists. I envisioned him in a free flowing, open-court, run-and-gun system that would best suit his talents.
But I was wrong.
The Cavs saw the “Next Michael Jordan,” so they moved LeBron to small forward, surrounded him with a bunch of plodding big men and small guards. They became a grind-it-out defensive team; offensively there was no creativity. The offense consisted of giving LeBron the ball and gettting out of the way.
A part of this is also LeBron’s fault since he made it known that he wanted to follow in Jordan’s footsteps (rocking the 23 jersey is a dead give away), so he never fought being in a position where everything was on his shoulders.
I always thought this was a mistake because LeBron’s basketball DNA has always been “pass first.” LeBron is one of the few players in the NBA who can control a game without scoring. The Cavs, though, put too much pressure on him to do everything. He was expected to score, rebound, and assist on almost every play. Even Michael Jordan didn’t carry that type of burden.
He has never been allowed to just play his game; he was expected to be a 30 point scorer almost every night and while he is totally capable of that, it simply isn’t in his DNA to be that type of player. He was never what I call an “assassin” scorer. He would have his moments like when he scored 21 in the 1st quarter of Game 3 against the Celtics, but that really was never his game.
Kevin Durant is a pure scorer; that is what HE does, but LeBron should be much more than that.
It is hard to argue with someone who averages 30-8-8, but what we are learning is that in the playoffs the burden is too great to be the Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Dennis Rodman of your team.
In essence, that is what the Cavs have been asking LeBron to do since day one. Score like Jordan, pass like Magic, and rebound like Rodman. In every year LeBron has been in the playoffs what has been proven is that one great player can’t beat a team of very good players alone. The common denominator linking all the teams that have eliminated the Cavs is that while none had a “LeBron” type of player, they had plenty of good players who were very good at the roles they were asked to play.
Going back to one of the high school games I saw LeBron play. It was a 3-on-1 break and LeBron (who at the time was already around 6’5″) was barreling down on a kid who couldn’t have been more than 5’8″; he could have easily dunked on the kid but he made the extra pass to his teammate for the uncontested dunk. His teammates go wild on the bench; he knew he would have plenty of opportunities to shine but wanted to make sure his teammate got a chance to get some love.
It was the type of play that you know Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson would have never passed on.
Wherever LeBron ends up next (even if it is back with the Cavs), I hope that team realizes that asking him to be the best player at every position on your squad is not beneficial to team success.
I also hope that LeBron realizes he doesn’t have to be Michael Jordan, but if he allows his all-around talents to shine through the results would be…