Over the past few years, LeBron James has spent juggling various identities as we’ve all compared him to past greats such as Magic, Jordan, Oscar Robertson and so many more, playing different positions on the floor and being criticized for almost every misstep. But by the end of the 2013 Finals, we all finally figured out who he really was. He’s LeBron James.
After beating the Spurs in the Finals, LeBron James was undoubtedly the greatest basketball player in the world. Back-to-back MVPs, back-to-back Finals MVPs and back-to-back NBA titles. He even started being portrayed as this loving, caring family man in commercials, who, when going out for a run had every person in the city joining in. The last athlete to have this sort of impact on their community was Rocky Balboa in Rocky II. Remember how LeBron was the enemy after The Decision? Funny how a few rings can change the public perception.
LeBron had finally silenced the critics, the people who took jabs at him, showed him in a bad light, wondered where he was mentally after bad shooting nigh and questioned his ability to get it done when it really mattered.
Now the argument can be made that he has accomplished everything possible there is to accomplish in the past two years as an NBA player. There is literally nothing more he could’ve done. He was raking up accolades and there was no one to prove wrong anymore, nothing really left to prove. He had finally gotten past the obstacles that were holding him back, separating himself from everyone else in the league, standing alone at the top.
Naturally heading into this year, we saw a Heat team that had approached the season a lot more relaxed, and in some cases we still see that from time to time. When you’re accustomed to tasting success it’s hard to stay in that locked-in state of mind over the duration of the season.
LeBron is still LeBron and will put up his numbers and the Heat will get wins, but they came into this season hoping they’d get into the playoffs completely healthy and flip the switch when they had to, something we’ve sort of been accustomed to seeing them do and it actually working. Come playoff time, no one can keep up–they are just too experienced, talented.
However, not all was perfect as the season progressed. You would think after everything LeBron and the Heat have done there would be some kind of respect that those achievements bring, at least a pass. But then we start hearing chatter about the Thunder out West, specifically Kevin Durant.
All of a sudden Durant is being compared to LeBron, and some people are even saying he’s better. The debate is actually happening. After Russell Westbrook‘s injury, no doubt Durant stepped up his offensive game. Not only that, he single-handedly carried his team to victories as they remained one of the best teams in the West. All of a sudden he’s scoring at a pace we’ve never seen Durant score at (and that’s saying something) and LeBron is being called the second-best player in the league. Naturally, that storyline out West trumps the one in a lackluster Eastern Conference, where you have your best players approaching games with this laid-back mentality.
Thing is, LeBron did something we haven’t see him do before. He was vocal about the comparisons and what the critics were saying. He’s on record this season for stating that he wants the MVP, and how he thinks there needs to be room made for him on the Mount Rushmore of the NBA. He’s getting away with saying these things because of what he’s done, but I can’t remember a time LeBron ever admitted he wanted an MVP trophy or that he considers himself one of the all-time greats. It’s uncharacteristic but at the same time exciting.
LeBron being vocal about this shows that it bothers him and rightfully so. He’s always used criticism as motivation; it’s why he’s where he is today. We’ve just never heard him be vocal about it. It caught everyone off guard, but in a good way.
Now you’re asking yourself whether we finally have a legitimate two-player rivalry in the NBA, something that we’ve been neglected of as fans for as long as I can remember. (We never really saw Kobe vs. LeBron with both of them in their primes.)
LeBron then goes out and hits a game-winning buzzer-beater before the All-Star break on the Warriors. First game after he scores his at-the-time season-high 42 points on the Mavericks.
Then they Heat play the Thunder right after and he comes out on fire, making eight of his first nine shots, almost as if making it a point to show people who the reigning MVP was (that game was on national television). Durant struggled to score early as LeBron was draped all over him. It didn’t end there; few nights later ‘Bron dropped a career-high 61 points. A career-high! We’ve seen LeBron step his game up a notch, and it’s exciting to have him back going 100 percent every game.
He entered a bit of a slump, but that happens. He recently hit the game-winner again against Portland, scoring a season-high 11 buckets in the paint. What this shows us is that his approach has changed. Why the sudden change? The obvious reason is the threat that looms of losing the MVP race. This has motivated LeBron to go out and prove the critics wrong once again.
We look back and historically LeBron does take these things personally. It’s hard to remember just because LeBron has been undoubtedly the best player in the league the last 6-7 years, but remember when Derrick Rose beat out LeBron for the MVP trophy three years ago? How did LeBron respond to that? He told his team when they played the Bulls in the playoffs that he wanted to guard Derrick Rose. The result? Rose shot eight percent from the field in the fourth quarter that entire series as LeBron wore him down.
Remember how he responded after losing to the Mavericks in the Finals? We’re still in the midst of that response right now.
No one is complaining though; seeing LeBron play at this level is refreshing. He’s playing his best every game and it’s good for everyone.
LeBron James needed something to play for again, and now the hunger is back. It’s like this shark analogy I heard once: Sharks at aquariums are lame because they’re always well fed and no one is sacred of them. Sharks out in the ocean… different story. They’re looking for prey and are vicious. You avoid those sharks. You don’t want a hungry LeBron. Teams want to avoid that LeBron.
That’s why I hope LeBron James doesn’t win the MVP trophy. Why? Because we’ll get an angry LeBron, a hungry LeBron. And guess who wins when that happens: the NBA wins, the fans win, LeBron definitely wins. And no other team wins.
It’ll be good for the NBA and everyone else that’s there to witness it. We’ve seen him take his game to those places and let’s be honest, nothing tops it. His career-high this year leads us to believe that the best is yet to come. No one wants to see a LeBron that differs, is passive, and is sort of coasting through games. We want and need a LeBron who still has people to prove wrong and something driving him, like the Game 5 against Detroit in 2007 when he was with the Cavs… the Game 6 against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012… or the Game 6 last year where LeBron lost his headband against the Spurs and rallied them all the way back to save their season. In all of those instances people doubted and questioned his ability.
For LeBron to keep producing unforgettable games like these we need him to lose the MVP race.
The best thing that could happen to the NBA is Durant winning this MVP trophy. It’s also the worst thing that could happen to everyone else that’s in the NBA.
What do you think?
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