Now after observing LeBron James for the last decade, my thought on his latest retreat is simple. His effort Tuesday, and arguably Sunday as well, bookended by his comments that followed looked to me like a 25-year old kid that is completely overwhelmed with the decisions he has allowed to loom as large as they have, and he’s way more vulnerable at the moment than he ever thought possible. He won’t admit this, but beyond being consumed by the questions of where to take his career next season, I believe he’s also questioning his ability to live up to the hype of becoming a champion.
It wasn’t too long ago that the unprecedented hype of which accompanied him into the NBA seemed so completely unattainable. Unattainable that is, until he attained it. Well most of it anyways. However now, in that seventh season with this team which is certainly deep enough, certainly talented enough, and certainly structured to win an NBA title, he looks and sounds to me like a person playing in desperate fear of failure. But what’s worse, instead of facing that fear straight on, he’s allowing voices and influences outside his inner circle to confuse and convince him that all this losing is not his fault. He has allowed his legacy to fall prey to the worldwide power brokers of basketball, who’ve sold him on an idea that he can’t win big here. Maybe those guys were sitting courtside Tuesday, maybe they weren’t. But the fact is, this losing, and the fashion by which he’s doing it, is entirely and completely his fault at the moment.
And to be clear, sure I’m worried the Cavaliers may not reach the pinnacle they seemed destined to at least climb this season, and sure, I don’t want him to leave next year either. But to be honest, I’m also worried about LeBron. Probably shouldn’t be, I’m sure he’s not worried about me, but the thing is, for the last decade, I have been an admirer, supporter, and fan of not just LeBron James the basketball mega-star, but LeBron James the person. Way before he ever was a Cavalier, I was pulling for the kid from Northeast Ohio, just like we all were. We took pride in the fact that he was from our community, he was our guy…is our guy. And beyond the losing of these last two games, and the subsequent sky is falling in Cleveland sports reaction, I believe the some of that anger we heard, read, and verbalized from Cleveland fans is in part rooted in that pride we have for the kid.
So as for those outside influences I referred to earlier? We’ll I don’t believe they’re coming from his inner circle…and when Brian Windhorst said on KNR yesterday that he asked people close to LeBron from within his camp what’s wrong and they replied with hallow eyes to say they didn’t know…I believe they don’t know. Only LeBron does, however I believe, like a lot of us out there listening and reading the reactions since, that somebody else has found their way into the ear of LeBron James, and he’s opened himself up to their influences. Now before it seems I’m getting carried away here with conspiracy theories involving coaches, Chicago’s, and shoe companies, let me be clear that I’m not. All I’m saying is that the LeBron James we’re watching, listening too, and questioning right now, is not the same guy we’ve been watching all along. What we’re seeing right now, I believe, is a young kid that’s getting played. If he looks vulnerable to a guy like me, I’m sure he looks vulnerable to guys that make a living on capitalizing on those sorts of things. Fact is, the words he’s using are not thoughts he’s ever put together publicly before. This reference to his own “spoiling greatness” sounds as ridiculous attributing to him as it does coming out of his mouth. And I want the old ‘Bron ‘Bron back…want him back tonight.
So what I hope for right now – on the morning of Game Six – is that somebody close to him can talk to him. I hope they can convince him to get it together, I hope they can convince him to compete. And I hope when they talk to him, they make it clear that basketball’s history will forget guys like Mike Brown as quickly as they forget that Doug Collins coached MJ. I hope it becomes clear to him quickly that this is about one guy right now, and that guy is LeBron James. If not, I hope he realizes it himself before this season ends prematurely tonight. But more than all that, I hope he responds for himself tonight in both tonight’s game, and the games that could follow. Because if he doesn’t, what he will inevitably have done is begun to allow someone else to write his legacy for him. And if he continues to do that, the ending to that story may read more similar to the tale of Tracy and Vince than that of Larry and Mike.
Here’s hoping he’s LeBron James tonight, the 25-year best player in the world…the whole truth and nothing but the truth from right down the road in Akron…the guy we always knew he was. We need him to be that tonight, and so does he.