Two wins and Dirk Nowitzki separated reality from my carefully orchestrated “I told you so” victory plan. Following the Bulls series and first seven and a half quarters against the Mavs, my bloodthirsty and egotistical tweet rant had already been written, edited and proofed 10 times over. Seriously, it was. Footage of Snoop at the Source Awards had been viewed ad nauseam in preparation for any foolish debate about LeBron not being the rightful King of the NBA after his first Finals victory; a year following the P.R. version of the Chernobyl disaster which subsequently was a Godsend to the Boys & Girls Club.
In some ways, the end of Game 6 involved taking my foot out my mouth as the biggest celebration-turnt-depression since Al Gore circa 2000 was well underway. In other ways, it was a realization that inspiration comes in many forms. Eight years ago, Mitch Albom pushed the boundaries of faith, conventional wisdom and the perception of life’s ultimate purpose with the groundbreaking, critically acclaimed novel The Five People You Meet In Heaven.
How’s this relate to LeBron, you ask? He’s the architect of two of the more infamous postseason defeats in playoff folklore and had this been politics, he may have been impeached already. However, it’s not and time away from his platform of expertise can only do a body, mind and soul good. With a lockout lasting Lord knows how long, and exactly 365 days since you know what, I’ve taken the liberty to create a list of six individuals Nike’s poster boy needs to meet for various reasons. Some are jokes, some are serious. Still, they all serve their purpose.
Person: Hakeem Olajuwon
Lesson: Post Move
Watching LeBron dominate a game, fan or not, is an impressive sight. Just ask this little camper if he knows what day it is yet (Bron actually lost, by the way). In fact, LeBron at the apex of his abilities may be the most overpowering show in sports. Yet, when the chips begin crumbling at the most inopportune moments, vulnerable LeBron presents himself. Why? Because jumpshots are like golddiggers. They’ll take you for the ride of your life when you’re on and break your heart with nothing to your name when they leave.
That impediment vanishes after spending a month with Hakeem Olajuwon. Kobe did so and may have added another year to his career. Dwight Howard went last summer and came back with a mid-range jumper. That resumé notwithstanding, it should go without mention that Hakeem is the owner of the greatest post moves of all time. Not one player in league history made it look better than Hakeem. LeBron, on the other hand, appears more out of place in the post than Braxton P. Hartnabrig in Original Gangstas. Someone who knows James, and if they value their friendship, should blindfold him and drop him off at Hakeem’s house and not allow him to leave until a post game is cultivated. Because, really, place all bias to the side for a moment. LBJ with an aggressive back-to-the-basket mentality is the basketball version of this.
Hakeem Vs. David Robinson in ’95 WCF: 35 PPG, 13 RPG, 5 APG, 4 BPG
Person: Alex Rodriguez’s “mental coach”
Lesson: Whatever comes from talking to a psychologist
These two have been linked together for a decade, either fairly or unfairly, for both their on-field and off-field actions. Evident by 2010’s Eastern Conference seminfinals against the Celtics and this year’s finals, there are moments when LeBron appears completely zoned out. And not in a good way either. Only he knows what the real reason was, but during times when the superhero antics we all know he’s capable of were needed, it felt as if he was dribbling a bouncing ball of kryptonite.
A-Rod experienced a terrible slump during the summer of 2006, but snapped out of it after speaking with a psychologist. Much of his therapy centered fear of abandonment issues and repressed childhood memories, yet the sessions also encouraged him to visualize success and relax during moments of intense pressure. Go back even further and John Smoltz began the 1991 season going 2-11. Upon spending time with “mental skills coach” Jake Llewellyn, the Braves pitcher tallied a record of 12-2. To explain both sides of the story though, Rodriguez did bat .071 in a first round loss to Detroit in ’06 and didn’t win a ring until three seasons later. And Smoltz, well, he had Bobby Cox and legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone around during that season, too.
Names: Floyd Mayweather & Gary Payton
Lesson: Mental toughness
This isn’t to say LeBron lacks mental toughness because the verbal abuse he endured this past season would have been enough to make Hitler blush. There’s always room for thicker skin, though. James will never be the boastful orator G.P. was and Floyd is at the moment, but spending two weeks training with these guys while they throw insult after insult his way would make any current NBA star’s trash talk appear cleaner a Mother Goose nursery rhyme.
Throw LeBron in the ring as Floyd’s sparring partner while he trains for his Victor Ortiz fight in September. One, Floyd’s going to talk the entire time. Two, it gives Floyd practice against someone with a reach longer than Dhalsim from Street Fighter. And three, the idea just sounds great. Let LeBron play Gary Payton one-on-one four times a day for two weeks straight. James may win every contest, but “The Glove’s” gift of gab is what we’d all want to see. Just put it on HBO (so they can curse), call it “LeBron Meets His Match” and bam. Who wouldn’t want to watch Floyd Mayweather and G.P. train LeBron while calling him every name in the book?
Name: Magic Johnson
Lesson: There’s always someone you can relate to.
Life wasn’t repeatedly great for Magic Johnson on the NBA’s brightest stage. Earvin’s performance in the 1984 finals was so dismal many in L.A. began to take wages on if he would ever “comeback” after critical mistakes in the waning moments of Games 2, 4 and 7 resulted in Boston wins. Kevin McHale poured salt on an open wound referring to him with the now infamous nickname “Tragic Johnson.” Meanwhile, Magic’s depression over the series loss was so severe he’d sit in his Bel Air mansion with no furniture in the dark for hours. He even ignored calls from his own mother and fears of dreaming about the losses would have him staying up all night talking with Isiah Thomas and Mark Aguirre. What’s so baffling about the venomous reaction Magic received was that he averaged 18 points and 15 assists throughout the seven game hardwood holy war.
He was attacked in the media, as well. A Los Angeles Times headline asked “EARVIN, WHAT HAPPENED TO MAGIC?” where they labeled him a “tarnished superstar” and the sole reason the Lakers were not the 1984 world champions. Magic was a sensitive person and almost as much as coming in second place, the assertions of being classified a choke artist burned deep. Of those claims, he had this to say, “I sat back when it was over, and I thought, ‘Man, did we just lose one of the great playoff series of all time, or didn’t we?’ This was one of the greatest in history. Yet all you read was how bad I was.”
Is this sounding like déjà vu yet? I thought so.
Name: Ja Rule
Lesson: The fall from the top always makes the loudest sound.
Ahh, yes. The left field choice. On the surface, why LeBron James would ever meet with Ja Rule in 2011 appears like a question with no answer. Looking deeper, it’s clear as day. This time a decade ago, Jeffery Atkins was perched at the proverbial mountaintop of Hip-Hop. His songs were chart toppers and his albums went platinum with almost no effort at all. Ten years later, Rule finds himself at the beginning of a two year prison bid and his name has become a verb for having your career derailed.
Even with the disparaging remarks thrown at him, LeBron is generally considered as the most talented player in the NBA. Then there’s the part ownership in a soccer team, a cartoon, successful shoe line, marketing company, being Jay-Z’s little brother and doing all that by the time you’re 26 with a mansion in Miami. Life, for the most part, is pretty damn good. Perspective is a bitch, however. Eventually, running past, jumping over and out muscling 99.3% of NBA players will be reserved for conversations that start with the question “You remember when…”
Ja Rule had it all, lived with it all and then lost it all never to get it back. Will this happen to LeBron? Probably not. And what’s “it?” This exact moment and his exact talents. Neither last forever and when they’re gone, the only thing a person can do is sit back, reflect and say one of two things: “veni, vidi, vici” or “I wish I would have did that.” For my sanity and his career, hopefully it’s the former, which translates to “I came, I saw, I conquered.” It was also the name of Ja Rule’s first (and best) album.
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