Years after “The Decision,” Lebron still just doesn’t get it.
I have some weird form of reverse narcissism when it comes to writing. I mean, not always, but lately I absolutely do. It’s like I can’t seem to write about the things I actually want to write about. Things I actually like writing about. I see things in sports media and I say, “Nope. Not touching THAT one. I am NOT writing about that.” Then I listen to ESPN or CBS Sports talk radio on the way to work (as I do every single day without fail) and Jim Rome or some other clown says something that just annoys me to no end and I just yell out loud at them in the car knowing full well that they can’t hear me.
So I put it off. I rage in my car. I get home, internalize my thoughts, swallow them, and try and find something I LIKE to write about, until a few days after everyone has hyper-analyzed everything so much it almost seems like it’s too late to talk about it.
That’s what’s happened this past week with Marcus Smart, Michael Sam, and Lebron James just being so classic Lebron it’s frustratingly hilarious. I REALLY didn’t want to write about any of this stuff, but I just hear idiots say the dumbest things and I just grip my steering wheel a little bit tighter.
So here we go. The “Least-Famous Member of the Royal Family” tackling three issues he didn’t really want to talk about. You’re up, Lebron.
Lebron being so Lebron, I completely forgot all about how I thought he might stop being so Lebron and grow up into the King James we want him to be.
- 1. Why did you just have to open your mouth?
Let me preface all of this by saying that I think Lebron is so very clearly the best player in the NBA right now that I don’t even feel it necessary to qualify that statement. Durant is making a case this year but he’s still not close yet in my book. Lock up the MVP, get a ring and we’ll talk.
Lebron – with a high degree of confidence – said that he would be on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore when its all said and done. I’m going to be one of the top four that’s ever played this game, for sure,” he said. “And if they don’t want me to have one of those top four spots, they’d better find another spot on that mountain. Somebody’s gotta get bumped, but that’s not for me to decide. That’s for the architects.”
I’m not going to sit here and rip Lebron and rant and rave about how he’s wrong. With the numbers he’s put up so far and the pace he’s on right now, it’s entirely possible that ten years from now he will be right and he will be on NBA Mount Rushmore. My issue here is “WHY?” Why did you feel the need to say anything at all, knowing full well that you’re going to make headlines and thrust yourself into the national conversation in a negative light. Just play ball dude. If you think that, that’s fine! It really is. I’m cool with that. I say all the time that if you’re a professional athlete and you don’t bring an attitude that says, “I’m the best player out here” every day and every night you are not going to play to your full potential. Confidence is essential, and I love seeing that level of competitiveness.
I’ve also made it very clear that I love it when athletes speak their mind. Lebron did that, and on some level, I applaud him for it. But it just would have been too easy for him to say, “I wake up every morning with the goal of putting myself on the NBA Mount Rushmore, and if my teammates and I continue at this pace I fully expect to be there.” Lebron has to realize that he’s not Superman, and NO one is above some kind of injury or freak accident (god forbid, obviously I am not wishing that on anyone). Sometimes, its not what you say, its the way you say it. When you say “the architects” will have to decide who to “bump” off your Mount Rushmore of Bird, Magic, Oscar, and MJ, you’re making a big statement that you will have to answer for. Lebron in essence said, when it’s all said and done, I will be definitively better than Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, George Mikan, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, everyone else and either MJ, Bird, Magic, or Oscar.
Woof. Enjoy that pressure you just put on yourself, bud.
- 2. Now let’s settle this Mount Rushmore thing
The Mount Rushmore debate is kind of funny to me, especially as it pertains to Lebron. The biggest problem we face when we start having “Greatest of All Time” arguments is that we fall victim to strongly favoring players we’ve been able to watch during our lifetime, then we throw in some guys we watch on ESPN Classics from the preceding generation, and guys from the distant past are easily overlooked and forgotten.
So, my solution is that we make a few Mount Rushmores, and put this thing in perspective.
Active Player Mount Rushmore:
Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Dirk Nowitzki (Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett)
Duncan: Later this year Duncan will close in on 25,000 career points and 44,000 career minutes played. He has four rings, five Finals appearances (the one he lost was a 7-game set), 2 MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, and 10 NBA First Team selections.
Kobe: 5 rings, 31,700 career points, 1 MVP, 2 Finals MVPs, and 11 First Team Selections
Lebron: 2 rings, record-setting pace for points, youngest player to do like 18 million different things statistically, Dirk: Look I know people aren’t going to like this one. Lots of other deserving folks out there right? I mean, Wade has three rings, Steve Nash has two MVPs, Garnett has a decent case. I think I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for guys who stick with one team for their whole career. Being one of only six guys in the 50-40-90 club at 7-feet tall is pretty cool too. But when it comes down to it, no one outside of Kobe and Tim Duncan has meant more to their respective franchises than Dirk means to Dallas. He’s their all-time leading scorer, and he figured out how to win in the playoffs without Steve Nash, something Nash never did without Dirk. Only one ring, only one Finals MVP, only one MVP season, I got it. But if you follow the blog I absolutely love efficiency and since his rookie season Dirk has never shot below 46% from the field or 36% from beyond the arc, or 83% from the stripe.
The “At This Moment” Mount Rushmore:
Lebron, Durant, Aldridge, Paul George (Honorable Mention: CP3)
This category can be rephrased as, “Based on how they’re playing right now, who would you most want to build a team around?”
Side note: Can we get these guys nicknames already? I like King James, but I’ve heard that folks are trying to call KD the “Slim Reaper”? Yuck. We can do better Filler. Let’s work on that. For Aldridge, we gotta think of something relating to his post game because there is no one better posting up right now. If the Pacers edge the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals this year (which they will), I’ll probably call Paul George “King George” because it’s funny.
“Our Lifetime” Mount Rushmore:
MJ, Olajuwon, Magic, Kobe (honorable mention: Larry Bird)
This is what I think Lebron was trying to get at. Because his list of Bird, Magic, MJ, and Oscar Robertson – while off the top of his head – completely ignores entire generations of other NBA/ABA greats. So this list will cover players from Lebron’s lifetime. More generally put, from the 80’s to the present day
Jordan: I will cover him below in the all-time discussion
Olajuwon: Hakeem led the league in blocks and rebounds for two different seasons throughout his illustrious career. A career 51.2% FG shooter, Olajuwon could do it all inside the three point line. What’s important to not about Olajuwon is that Jordan’s Bulls were so great, that Hakeem might be the most under-appreciated player of his generation. His Rockets stole both NBA Championships during what I call the “Jordan window” of the 1990’s when Jordan took his baseball hiatus and teams scrambled to grab whatever rings and records they could while Jordan was striking out on the diamond (The Rockets also lost a Finals against Larry Bird in 1986). Hakeem is getting a little bit of credit for what he could’ve done in a world without Michael Jordan. Furthermore, Olajuwon was the guy that made us trust in drafting foreign-born players. Born in Nigeria, Olajuwon embodied the American Dream and wound up being the number 1 overall pick. A pick that obviously paid tremendous dividends put an entire franchise on the map.
Magic Johnson: You really have to resist the urge to penalize Magic Johnson for playing with tremendous talent around him. People often forget that Magic only really played 12 full seasons before his career was cut short by HIV. Although listed at point guard, at 6’9″ Magic was probably the only basketball player I can think of in history who could effectively play all five positions when asked to. He led the league in assists per game for three seasons, steals per game for two, and in the 1985 playoffs he blew our minds averaging 15.2 assists per game. I say again, 15.2 assists per game. 5-time champ, 3-time MVP, 3-time Finals MVP, All-Star team every year he played a full season, and a 10-time NBA first teamer.
Kobe: Hold up, what about Kareem? Yes, technically Kareem played in the 80’s but his first season was in 1970. Not exactly “Our Lifetime.” Not quite meeting the intent of this category, but I think I would have to say that overall Kareem was better than Kobe. But its tough to make a case for Bird when you see that Kobe’s got 31,700 career points scored, 5,640 points in the postseason (Bird had 21,800 and 3,900 respectively). While Bird was undoubtedly the better distributor, who would you rather have taking the final shot of a big game with the season on the line? And talk about help? Bird’s Celtics teams were absolutely stacked also (4 other HOF players on the 86’ Celtics who won the Championship against Olajuwon’s Rockets: Parish, Walton, McHale, Dennis Johnson). I don’t think Kobe has had that level of support, although his supporting casts have been good.
The “All Time” Mount Rushmore:
While I think it is usually tremendously difficult to sit down and do one of these lists, when I sat down and truly looked over a list of the best NBA players and started to draw out the stats for each one, I think in the end it’s actually pretty clear cut.
Each player has defined their respect stone face in Mount Rushmore in different ways. Michael Jordan, simply put, is undoubtedly the greatest basketball player of all time. Looking at the era in which he played with the extreme high level of competition, no player ever faced down as many other greats as MJ and came out triumphant. Jordan tore through Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Gary Payton, Danny Ainge, John Stockton, and Karl Malone on his way to 6 championships. Jordan got distracted with a completely different sport for two years in the prime of his career, came back and still won three championships back to back to back.
Wilt Chamberlain is the most dominant player in the history of the NBA (Kareem has to get that title for college ball). He led the league in PPG 7 times, including one season where he averaged over 50 PPG. His ability to score is well-documented. But don’t forget that he led the league in boards 11 times and is the NBA’s all-time leader in rebounds. While the competition level must be factored in when we evaluate the 60’s era in which he played as it compares to say the 80’s and 90’s, Wilt’s dominance throughout his career cannot be ignored.
Bill Russell is on Mount Rushmore because he was a winner. He played during the same time as Wilt, but his regular season scoring numbers don’t even come close to Wilt’s (although Russell was a superb rebounder). But Russell is an 11-time NBA Champ and 5-time MVP. He played so well in the playoffs and NBA Finals that the Finals MVP award was created because of him and named after him.
On the surface, Oscar Roberston is sort of the wild-card here, and you’re probably thinking he’s the least “set in stone” on our Mount Rushmore. But I put Oscar on here ahead of Kareem and George Mikan because Oscar is the most complete and well-rounded player in NBA history. He averaged a triple-double in 1961-1962 (12.5 rebounds, 11.4 assists, and 30.8 PPG). Think about the magnitude of that. Of all the current records and amazing NBA statistics, that is one I don’t will ever happen again. Stats were inflated in general during the 60’s but I still find that to be absolutely unbelievable. During his career with the Cincinatti Royals, over the course of ten seasons, Oscar averaged 8.5 rebounds, 10.3 assists, and 29.3 points per game. Oscar was great at every major aspect of basketball, and that’s why he’s on Mount Rushmore.
A quick note on defense: Every one of the all-time Mount Rushmore dudes played defense. I don’t want to spend too much time on my high horse here, but it’s so important and I’m nervous that it’s becoming a lost art. In fact, what I hate most about my Mount Rushmore is that I had to choose between Oscar and Kareem. Oscar was the most complete player, but Kareem was a scoring machine and an extraordinary defender. Big shout out to Kareem. I wish we could add another face.
The final question becomes: What does Lebron have to do to get on Mount Rushmore? Lebron is not the competitor that Michael was; he just lacks that borderline-creepy killer instinct and ninja focus that MJ brought to everything. All those years he kept losing to the Pistons, MJ never would’ve called up Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and been like, “Hey guys, lets stack a team and dominate everyone else!”
SIDE NOTE: My favorite MJ interview of all time by the way. He subtly takes a jab at Lebron without being loud or wildly controversial. Listen to MJ… “I wanted to beat those guys.”
MJ’s spot is safe. Lebron won’t reach 6 championships, nevermind Russell’s 11. Russell is safe. I don’t think Lebron can ever match Wilt’s dominance because while we’re not in the 90’s anymore, the competition is still too great with guys like Durant and Paul George coming up to challenge him every year. His best bet is to try and replace Oscar. Lebron is the most complete and well-rounded player since Robertson. I don’t think Jordan passed like Lebron and his size allows him to be a better rebounder. People also forget that Lebron is very good defensively as well.
- 3. The hipster Lebron dunk contest
Lebron is such a closet hipster. “I’m not a dunk contest guy.” Dude, shut up. You did the McDonald’s All-American High School dunk contest! Don’t act like you’re too cool for the dunk contest now, man. I hate that. MJ wasn’t above the dunk contest.
Saying you’re “not a dunk contest guy” and then putting on little private dunk contests for your boys so you can get plastered all over ESPN and YouTube is such a slap in the face to NBA fans. It is such a Lebron move. Maybe because he’s been anointed as the chosen one since he could dribble, but there’s something Lebron has just never quite fully gotten. He’s smart, well-spoken, even funny at times, but I feel like he just doesn’t quite always get it. He pulled that crap with the news conference and was like, “I don’t get it, why does everyone hate me now?”
I just don’t think he fully understands NBA fans. No Lebron you don’t have to do a dunk contest but can you blame us for thinking that you owe us one? He did this same crap last year when he put on a little dunk contest show during pregame warm-ups.
“Hey guys, I’m not going to do the dunk contest because I’m above it. It’s not really my thing. I can’t control the situation and guarantee I’m going to win (like I tried to do in Miami when I teamed up with my buddies), so I’m just not gonna do it. Why? Because I just don’t want to do it, OK? But hey, check me out with my shirt off. See my ripped muscles and my six pack? Now watch this dunk!”
Like I said before, every time I think Lebron is going to grow up and stop being so Lebron he does something so Lebronny Bron-Bron that I want to throw my remote at my TV. His publicist has got to be the most frustrated human being on the planet.
Quick, without thinking about it, answer this question as fast as you can: “Who is the best overall athlete in the four major sports?” Just based off pure talent and athleticism, who is the most gifted athlete? It’s Lebron. It has to be. I’d love to throw some pads on that guy and see him try tight end. Heck, at 6’8” 250 as fast as he is? I’d love to see him play strong safety. That would be a sight to behold. Can’t say that about Jordan, Russell, Wilt, or Oscar. Lebron is a physical freak of nature. Watching him bound down a basketball court in three steps and two dribbles is weird.
THAT IS WHY YOU FRUSTRATE US LEBRON. You’re so unbelievably athletic, so talented, so gifted that we look at you and we want to see you dominate, but until recently you really haven’t! We want to see you participate in the dunk contest and give us one of these because we think you really are that physically amazing:
We all want you to get it so bad, Lebron. You want to be on Mount Rushmore? Try starting with giving us a dunk contest.