Lebron James may never reach or surpass MJ’s greatness, but basketball purists should hope he does. This is not a knock on Jordan, but rather the legacy of basketball that Jordan inadvertently left behind. These are just my thoughts. . .
1. Lebron is a really good passer
If you want to know why Lebron James is my favorite superstar of all-time, all you have to do is watch the third quarter of the Bulls-Heat game 2 from Wednesday night. The Heat dominated the third quarter outscoring Chicago 30-15 thanks to Lebron’s dominance. But get this: LBJ didn’t score a point the entire quarter. Instead he dished out five assists; a few of them as nice as you will ever see in a basketball game. Check out these gifs I jacked from @SBNATION:
Not one Bulls player had any inkling about what was about to happen. Like a great chess player Lebron sees the game unfolding before it happens, and like a great NFL quarterback he never telegraphs the play with his eyes until the last second – if needed. And this next pass is just stupid:
These types of passes are my Clayton Kershaw Public Enemy #1 moments. These get me as excited as MSNBC’s Chris Mathews watching an Obama speech. Mind you, he just threw a behind the back bounce pass through the middle of the lane, to a passing cutter, with pinpoint accuracy, in the playoffs, against one of the best defenses in the NBA! Basketball at that level is not supposed to look that easy!
2. He had me at hello
It was the 2003 McDonald’s High School All-American game when I realized this guy is different from anyone I had ever seen. I watched a few of his televised high school games before this, but this would be the first time I got to see how his game stacks up against elite competition. The McDonad’s game is notoriously sloppy, as you would expect out of an HS all-star game. The players either force shots or force passes, and rarely do they find a middle ground. Lebron? He only went for 27/7/7. Though, it’s those 7 assist that impressed me most. Not so much the number but the quality and types of passes he completed.
After this paragraph check out the Youtube video below. Skip the dunks and start watching at the 1:59 mark where he turns a loose ball scramble into a fast break with a ridiculous off the floor behind the back outlet pass. Then check out the no look alley-oop from the baseline at 2:23, followed by the drive and dump and then the absolutely sick fastbreak behind-the-back bounce-pass in traffic, and finally the zipping no look pass to the cutter at the 2:36 mark. There is more but you get the picture.
Up until this game, I had never seen a more cerebral basketball player with Lebron’s ability, at Lebron’s age. It was like watching a basketball savant. Before Lebron I never even fathomed that it was possible for someone of his ability to see the court the way he does. A Magic-Jordan mashup is something only a Stan Lee could have dreamed up.
Great athletic ability and scoring talent can function as blinders, inhibiting players from seeing the rest of the court. They get tunnel-vision. There is functionality to this mindset: the best scorer should probably take the shot as opposed to passing to a less competent teammate. Never-mind other factors such as quality of shots or keeping teammates involved so that they remain engaged in other facets of the game such as defense and rebounding.
The other reason that Lebron was such an aberration lies in the fact that I grew up during and in the wake of the Michael Jordan Era. Jordan was not the problem. It was the perversion of Jordan’s legacy that was. For one, Jordan clearly possessed the ability and talent to play selfishly. Two, Jordan really wasn’t all that selfish; he scored within the confines of Phil Jackson’s triangle. But for players coming up in Jordan’s shadow, it was all about getting the glory and admiration. Only they either did not have Jordan’s ability – duh, or they misunderstood Jordan’s game.
3. What will be Lebron’s lasting legacy on the game of basketball?
I don’t know what led to the romanticization that Jordan scored the basketball every time he touched it. Wait. . . Yeah I do! Because it felt like he did. Ultimately, however, I feel it was detrimental to the game from top to bottom. Watching team basketball is far more entertaining than “Hero Ball” and playing pickup basketball at the park is not nearly as fun when everyone is trying to do their best MJ impersonation.
It is my best hope that the Lebron era ushers in a new era of unselfish basketball. Don’t get me wrong, great passing never went extinct, and championship teams never stopped sharing the ball. The problem is that passing has been relegated to one of those dirty jobs that no one wants to do but must be done in order to win. Only point guards are expected to be exceptional at it.
Lebron offers the chance to make passing cool again. Sure, other teams and players move the ball plenty, but they are not Lebron. He can sell it like no other player since Jordan can. The thought of young impressionable kids growing up idolizing Lebron and seeing him play the game in the manner that he plays it is something worth getting excited about. Lebron can restore balance to the basketball world (at all levels of the game) like Luke Skywalker restored balance to the force. To do so, however, he must have sustained success and keep building upon his already impressive resume. For the sake of the next generation of ballers, I hope he does.