November 20, 2017

Riding the Bench – Lebron’s Legacy

by Jacob Hevenor ’17

Sports Editor

With three NBA championships, four MVP awards, 13 straight All-Star selections, and even two Olympic gold medals, LeBron James’ greatness has been seemingly solidified. Somehow, however, his critics never run out of material. Why is it that the man who has been the class of the NBA for almost a decade still faces so much criticism?

The hype coming out of high school was enormous. Hailing from Akron, Ohio, James skipped college, joining his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers as soon as he graduated high school. He was painted as the savior of Cleveland, who would bring the team from the bottom of the league to the top. At just 19 years old, he could be found on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on billboards across the country and on the (fairly new) world wide web.

LeBron James. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

James came of age at the same time as the Internet. As social networks exploded, his potential was inflated to mythical heights. With hype that large, the legend of LeBron was entrenched before he even played a game. He could never live up to the unreachable expectations.

By his third season, the Cavaliers had gone from the worst team in the NBA to winning playoff series. James was the catalyst–but championships proved elusive. When his contract expired in 2010, James made a decision (The Decision) that changed both his career and reputation drastically, and vilified him for many, a perception which persists even today. Despite never winning a championship in his hometown, James shocked the nation when he announced on a live TV special that he was “taking his talents to South Beach” and joining the Miami Heat. The Heat, with stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, were already in prime position to win a title.

James took merciless criticism for his decision to leave Cleveland without a championship. Cleveland fans’ golden boy left without so much as a goodbye, leaving many fans feeling betrayed and hurt that he had no loyalty to his city. He took criticism for spurning competition and forming a “super team” with Wade and Bosh. He took criticism, amazingly, for valuing winning over his own legacy.

By his standards, James’ Miami tenure achieved mixed results. In a move of sheer irony and, for many, of hypocrisy, James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers seemingly with the motive of bringing home a championship for his hometown. After a loss in the Finals, James’ record in championships fell to 2-4, a record nowhere near fit for one of the best players of all time. No one could deny that James was one of the most athletically talented players to ever play. However, the criticisms that said he disappeared in the biggest moments seemingly had some merit.

In 2016, even many of James’ most stubborn critics began to lose traction. He reached his sixth straight Finals, and brought the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series 4-3, bringing a championship to Cleveland. With three titles to his name, he still has a ways to go to top Michael Jordan’s five. Still, three is nothing to laugh at. Critics will say that his scoring has declined, but his distributing has improved, and his shooting percentage has steadily increased as he has perfected his post play. He can score when he wants, but pass when his scoring is not necessary. His durability, while often questioned, is impressive as well; James has frequently had to shoulder an extra load as players around him go down.

Many of James’ haters emerged when he struggled to win titles despite his incredible individual performances. With three rings, that ship has sailed, yet the haters hang on. I find that the only reason why James continues to receive flak is because his detractors cannot admit that they were wrong. Critics took sheer glee out of seeing James fail, in fits of “I-told-you-so” drenched in smug presumptuousness. Now, with the evidence stacked against them, James’ critics grow louder in an effort to obscure their misperceptions.

Perhaps the most potent pushback against James’ critics, however, is that even with all the records and awards he has accumulated, he is 32 years old. He might be past his prime, but this superstar still has plenty left in the tank to prove he is the greatest of all time. The book is yet to close, and the final chapter is often the most memorable.

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