National / Sports / May 27, 2010

LeBron doesn’t want to win

LeBron James is a two-time MVP through seven seasons in the NBA. He’s been to the playoffs every year. He went to the finals in 2007. They call him King, the best player alive, the Chosen One. As it is with the NBA finding a transcendent new talent, he has also been crowned the next Michael Jordan, the man some believe is the best player ever. This, more than anything else, is the most damning description of the young man.

When you have been crowned as the Chosen One by none other than Sports Illustrated in your junior year of high school and even get to grace their cover, it is pretty obvious your life is going to be different right off the bat. When your mother, a working-class woman, buys you a Hummer for a graduation present, that’s just odd. Rookie of the Year, adulation of millions, and the affirmation that he is the greatest – all this has been handed to LeBron James. He is the first true superstar of the new millennium, and he has never had to fight for anything.

Contrast that with the early life of Jordan, who James is supposed to supplant, and you see Michael growing up in a small town in North Carolina, sitting on the bench for the Tarheels, and not being considered good enough to go first in the draft. While he was very good in college and even won a national championship, Jordan never had it easy. Just watch his Hall of Fame speech; it’s him calling out everyone who didn’t believe in him.

Meanwhile, James has been told that he is perfect, the greatest player in the game, that he can have whatever he wishes. And by and large, that is true. But now, after his seventh season when he was supposed to win a championship for the second year, he is sitting at home, watching the Finals on television. And in his last series of the season, James showed why he isn’t Michael and may never be.

Jordan was known for his killer instinct as well as his prodigious ability on the court. Here was a man who not only wanted to beat you, but humiliate you and prove that you are just a simple man to his superhero self. Case in point, in the 1992 finals he scored 35 points in the first half of game one, demoralizing the Blazers and triggering what would be an easy series for him. He scored 68 points in his first ever playoff appearance, letting everyone know he was here and here to stay.

All this rehashing of Jordan’s career is to prove one point. LeBron James is not Michael Jordan, and may never be. A man who has been told he is the king since childhood will believe it until he can’t open up the throne room. James has been to the Finals and then got obliterated by a skilled Spurs team that took advantage of him being the only basketball player on the team. Since then, he’s gotten a lot of talent put around him, brought to the point where the Cavs were this year. Twice now they’ve been the best team in the regular season and disappointing in the postseason. It seems plain, especially with how the Cavs rolled over so easily against an aging Celtics team, that James doesn’t have what Jordan or even Kobe has. To put it simply, LeBron lacks the will to win. He is too concerned with his legacy, with being the Jay-Z of basketball and being a legend today to worry about doing what made Michael, Michael. He has an expectation that he deserves a championship every year, just as he has been handed everything his entire life. He was quoted as saying that he could win a scoring title every year if he wanted. While he probably could, that’s still a little hubristic. Plus he wears number 23. Really, LeBron?

Will LeBron win a championship? Probably, at some point. You can’t be that good and not win at least one. But the chances that he will be the next Jordan seem a little far-fetched, especially if he goes to the Knicks or the Bulls(that in itself is a bad idea; Jordan’s shadow would only loom larger). He needs to either change his mindset completely and understand that winning is what matters now, and that the legacy will come, or else be content with being another Dr. J or Oscar Robertson; content to dominate his career, but the championships aren’t what makes up who he is.

Who knows, maybe he’s having a mid-life crisis, like Ricky Williams, the running back, or Todd Marinovich, the QB. He’s been told he has to be something all his life, but maybe he doesn’t want that anymore or doesn’t have what it takes. Either way, right now he doesn’t want to win, not as much as the eventual champions want to.

Merritt Rohlfing

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