5 Signs the New LeBron is Here to Stay (and 4 Signs He Isn’t)
LeBron James has long been the most divisive player in the NBA. Very few deny his talent, but the mere mention of his name sparks discussion (arguments, really) about his place in NBA history, and the dreaded concept of “unrealized potential.” Clouding for many his MVP awards, perennial All-Star appearances, and NBA championships is the fact that he doesn’t have the killer instinct that Michael Jordan (or even Kobe Bryant) had over their careers. The argument goes that all the talent in the world won’t replace heart.
Whereas Michael would shut up and win come hell or high water, LeBron would rather be exist among many stars, and valued fun, comfort, and stardom more than winning. It’s a pretty damning indictment, and one that is often supported with his flopping, lack of clutch performances, and demeanor that’s more goofy than cutthroat.
Well, we’re four games into the NBA Finals with things are all tied up at 2-2, and most fans are either sitting with their mouth agape from LeBron’s tour de force performance or keeping their mouth shut, waiting to see if this guy is for real.
Well, is he? Below, we have five reasons he is, and four reasons he isn’t. Read and see which side you fall on.
Remember LeBron James, the guy who, along with the ill-fated “Decision,” was mocking Dirk Nowitzki’s cough in the equally ill-fated 2011 Finals? He was emotive, goofy, and sometimes childish. Then we saw him in the playoffs last year, letting Lance Stephenson blow in his ear while he just sat there, above it all. Now, he’s really not saying much at all, which is what the doubters have asked for all along. He’s doing his job like a pro. It’s not glamorous, nor is it much to talk about, but it’s a long way from where he was even a few years ago.
5. Is – He’s Keeping His Mouth Shut
LeBron has always been a physical specimen. But just as he’s always been critiqued for never being as cutthroat as he is talented, he’s also rarely played the game like he was built to. A man like LeBron flopping is an insult to the game, and to himself. We saw it a lot. “LeBron would be great if he ever harnessed his strength properly.” Well, he’s harnessing, and it’s come to a point where the Warriors aren’t taking charges from him because they’re actually scared to. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here.
4. Is – He’s Tough as Nails
Few players log as many minutes as King James, which is why he’s known to help you get to an early lead, but might not be as present for your team in the waning minutes of a game. The past two games have seen a dominant Cleveland acquire a big lead, then let it slip towards the end. And while a truly great leader wouldn’t let the lead slip at all, to LeBron’s credit, he is serving as a crucial backstop to keep that slide from becoming a loss. He’s been present in the final minutes, especially on the free throw line, where he’s badly needed, given how big a target for fouls he is.
3. Is – He’s Showing Up in the Late Moments
No one has ever come out of the gate in an NBA Finals the way LeBron has, averaging about 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists. Look at those numbers. Not only are they better than his regular season stats, but they’re better than anyone’s NBA Finals stats ever. I know that leadership and heart can’t be measured in numbers, but this has been a long season (and off-season) for LeBron, and to still persevere and thrive so long into the playoffs demonstrates a resolve and determination that we haven’t seen from him.
2. Is – His Numbers Are Better in the Finals
In Miami, he was surrounded by talent on a team that was crafted to win. The same could be said about Cleveland throughout the regular season. But now, with two All-Star teammates sidelined, he’s pushing the boulder up the hill all by himself, and he’s actually getting lowly teammates to help out. It’s a sign of leadership, pure and simple. LeBron is carrying the Cavs, like great players do.
1. Is – He’s Doing It Alone
I didn’t put this higher on the list because I don’t necessarily think it’s THAT big a problem, but LeBron seems to view his contributions above what his team does. That may sound like a big deal, but it isn’t. LeBron has caught flack for talking about what he’s done, and what “his” guys were able to do. It may seem self-important, but it’s pretty clear when you talk about the greats, they always viewed the team as theirs, and saw their performance directly tied to the success of the team. He could have chosen some softer language the past few games, but I think the sentiment is ok.
4. Isn’t – He Still Lives in the First Person
There’s an element of truth to the fact that his window as a player, with so many playoff runs, is closing. It’s not closed yet, but it’s also possible that he might be at the peak of his game, if his best years aren’t behind him. While he can still be dominant, the greats were the best leaders when they were at their physical best. That’s why they were great. LeBron might achieve a couple years of overlap their, but the trajectories aren’t totally together.
3. Isn’t – It’s Too Late in His Career
Ok. He can shoot well. And he can shoot free throws. But a huge part of earning the label “clutch” is being able to knock down a shot from anywhere on the court, seemingly willing it in. It’s not the only factor, mind you. But for all of LeBron’s credit for taking over games, he’s much more of an inside post player or driver than he is a shooter. And that will certainly keep you from being a legend associated with buzzer-beaters.
2. Isn’t – He Can’t Shoot
Sure, he’s tracking well three games in (and a fourth by the time this is published), but he won’t have won the Finals in that fourth game. So to say that a new LeBron is here to stay, we actually need to see him rise up and finish what he’s clearly started. He seems very capable, but being capable just goes to that argument of “unrealized potential” that I mentioned in the intro. He needs to realize this championship, otherwise he’ll just be surrounded by qualifiers and excuses, rather than results and rings.