I grew up loving Michael Jordan. In my opinion he is the greatest basketball player of all time. LeBron James is not Michael Jordan. In fact, if there has ever been an NBA player similar to Jordan it has to be Kobe Bryant. But unlike many critics of King James, I think we all need to give LeBron James a break. LeBron has broken records and has outdone what many people thought he would do when he started his career straight out of high school. LeBron is criticized for his leadership skills and clutchness or lack thereof. People see the fact that he is now 27 without an NBA championship as a failure. I could not disagree more.
LeBron James came out of St. Vincent St. Mary’s high school as the highest touted and anticipated high school athlete ever. He had a 90 million dollar endorsement deal before ever playing a single NBA game. With the entire weight of the world on his soldiers, LeBron began his career for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. James started out amazing averaging 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game while earning Rookie of the Year honors. He instantly put the Cavaliers on the map while steadily improving the team year after year. In only his third year he scored 35 or more points in nine consecutive games, joining Jordan and Kobe Bryant as the only players since 1970 to accomplish the feat. For the season, James averaged 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game. Those are crazy numbers. The Cavaliers ending up losing a heart breaker to the Defending Champion Detroit Pistons in a 7 game Eastern Conference Finals. He did this with a horrible team. In only his fourth season, James averaged 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. This was the year that LeBron finally moved from very good to great. In the Eastern Conference Finals, James led the Cavaliers from an 0–2 deficit against the Detroit Pistons to win the series in six games. His performance in Game 5 was especially memorable. James recorded a franchise-record 48 points on 54.5% field goal shooting, to go with 9 rebounds and 7 assists. In addition, James scored 29 of Cleveland's last 30 points, including the team's final 25 points in a double-overtime victory. He concluded the night with a game-winning lay-up with 2 seconds left. NBA analyst Marv Albert referred to James' performance as "one of the greatest moments in postseason history," while color commentator Steve Kerr called it "Jordan-esque.” Though they were swept by the Spurs in the finals, James had accomplished so much, so quickly, with so little support behind him. With the likes of Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Joe Smith, Wally Szcerbiak, Ben Wallace, Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden, Lebron had almost no support and did this all on his own.
There is proof to LeBron’s value currently rotting in Cleveland as we speak. The team that LeBron left, while bringing his talents to South Beach was arguably the worst team in the history of the NBA. The Cavaliers were 19-63 and had lost 26 games in a row. This was a “championship caliber” team less one player. That must say something amazing about that one player. LeBron continues to set records every season and has become one of if not the best defending guard in all of basketball.
In his 9th season LeBron is widely considered the greatest athlete in the NBA and is almost mentioned as the #1 or #2 best basketball players. In a recent poll, 34% of people said he would be their #1 choice when starting a new team. He is a complete player who not only scores 27-35 a game but he has amazing court vision and makes those around him better (see Cleveland). Again, I am not looking to compare LeBron to Jordan because they are different players. But if I were to point out one thing; it took Jordan quite a few years to win his first title. He ended up winning 6 with some of the best supporting casts ever. Jordan started out his career as a selfish ball hog that scored 35 points a game as his team failed to make the playoffs. LeBron’s path has not quite been the same and he accomplished perhaps even more than Jordan in his first few years with a poor supporting cast. I have myself criticized LeBron when I have not seen that “killer instinct” that Jordan possessed but I also feel that we are too hard on LeBron. In his first year with a supporting cast, he led the best team in the NBA to game 6 of the Finals. If LeBron fails to win again this year or even the year after that, it will be time to view him as a disappointment. Right now he has everything in place to not only win one, but to win numerous championships. If he continues to fail, then it will be time to criticize; but until then, let’s give LeBron a break.