I vividly remember dribbling a basketball in the entryway to my house, on top of some drab-colored tile that belonged in the 1970s. I wanted to be Kevin Johnson. He was a point guard, the position which dribbles the most, my dad told me. So yeah, dribbling was what I was going to practice. I just wanted to be him.
As the years went on, I replicated games of other players. I practiced the fadeaway of Vince Carter in my front yard when I had the 24-inch-or-so vertical that allowed me. Playing alone, I threw up bricks so I could practice grabbing offensive rebounds like Shawn Marion. Just like Dirk Nowitzki, I made sure my elbow pointed toward the rim on my jumper.
I put in work. No way was I going to play in the NBA. Never. But I didn’t care as a kid, and I knew that I had to practice if I wanted to get better, no matter how relative “better” was to anyone else. Simple as that. Working at something takes time. Unconsciously, I knew it as a kid.
When the final buzzer hit 0.0 and the Dallas Mavericks had finally won an NBA title over the Miami Heat, it went like this; years of painful, oh-so-close moments for the Mavs culminated in a tireless work ethic that eventually led to a ring. Meanwhile, a recently-put-together Heat team had itself humbled behind embarrassingly confident rhetoric.
Everyone has blasted the Heat at this point, so I want to be reasonable when reviewing the conception of this team and the reasons they lost. I’m not a LeBron James lover, nor an over-the-top critic, but I see him at a crossroads, in limbo if you will. He has sins of fourth quarter failure in the past but the promise (and talent of course) to redeem himself with at least one ring in the future. That chance is high, no doubt.
And to me, deciphering LeBron is important in understanding the Heat’s future as a whole.
It’s not that he didn’t show up in the fourth quarter for the majority of the NBA Finals. That’s well-documented. There’s no arguing that it wasn’t him to take over in 2011, otherwise, he would have at least tried. That in itself shouldn’t be a reason for hatred toward LeBron coming from any basketball fan. He doesn’t have that sacred “it” factor – at least not now – but that’s no reason to trash him as a human being. That’s not fair.
Children have it right. They see a basketball player, maybe many, and they want to be them. They emulate them and work on their game to replicate every move, every play of their favorite stars. Of course, as they grow older, the game intensifies, the competition increases. They need to put more hours in as this happens. Or, they realize they’re not destined for the NBA so some of the 24 hours in the day go to other activities: school, friends, new passions, whatever. The love of the game doesn’t wane, but the thrill of becoming their hoops idol does.
For James however, the profession requires that he continue this process, no matter the triple-doubles he puts up. And that’s the problem. He wowed us in Cleveland and even impressed us in the series leading up the the 2011 Finals. So when James takes a step backward, critics criticize, fans pout and believers lose belief.
I can’t blame only LeBron. The media built this monster that was supposedly a mix of Magic and Michael. Ever since he was a kid, LeBron James has bought into that. He probably doesn’t remember the few years where his idolization of NBA players was something real, because soon, LeBron was told to idolize himself.