Since Michael Jordan retired in 1998 (his failed comeback is a memory i’m actively choosing to forget) the league has searched frantically for the guy they could anoint as the “the next Michael Jordan.”
When a 6’7+ force-of-nature phenom from Akron, Ohio was drafted by the Cavaliers, donning #23 since his days of nationally televised high school basketball games, many believed the search was over.
Many believed that LeBron James was the second coming of Michael Jordan. And the scary thing was, many thought he could be better. “King James” was hailed as a player with a combination of skills encompassing those of Jordan, Magic, and Dr. J.
Along a very, very successful ride that has been James’ career, everyone has been waiting for the moment where he could morph from a once-in-a-generation talent to a legendary superstar that we could tell our kids stories about.
But there’s one thing that Jordan had, since the day he was cut from his high school basketball team and throughout his NBA career, that LeBron still needs to develop even after being in the NBA for six years. It’s the one thing that is separating the two with a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyons.
The insatiable thirst for victory.
The sheer obsession to do whatever it takes to achieve victory, no matter who or what is in his way.
Last night’s Game 5 loss by the Cavaliers was embarrassing, and the proverbial icing of the feces bundt cake that was last night’s performance was LBJ’s 15pts on 3-14 from the field (over half his points came from free throws). Not exactly “ESPN Classic”-material. He never attacked the basket like he usually does: like a runaway beer truck barreling through anything and everyone. No thunderous dunks that left people ducking for cover lest they get posterized (again). There were absolutely no moments where the Celtics had to think to themselves: “How the fuck do you stop this guy?”
In fact, outside his virtuoso performance in Game 3 of this series, it appears that LeBron is a bit too happy to be along for the playoff ride with his teammates, rather than being the one who drives the car to its required destination, regardless of any roadblock in the way.
Jordan would have driven the vehicle to wherever he needed it to go, whether he had to run over opponents or even teammates along the way.
Does LeBron have that same resolute, iron-clad, unwavering will to win? Does he really have that cold-blooded killer instinct that separates the legends from the stars?
Jordan’s killer instinct needs no mentioning, as he was the most savage competitor perhaps in the history of professional sports.
But what’s more frustrating is that some of LeBron’s contemporaries, people who are usually considered to be “not as great” as LeBron, have demonstrated this proverbial “6th gear” while LeBron hasn’t.
With their backs to the wall against an increasingly confident and uber-talented Thunder team, Kobe Bryant manned up on Russell Westbrook (who was quietly destroying them), lead the Lakers over the Thunder, and then slaughtered the Utah Jazz. Dwayne Wade, with a pile of shit Miami team around him, scored nearly at will, despite being triple teamed at times, and scared the living hell out of the Celtics. Steve Nash basically put the Stone Cold Stunner on the Spurs with ONE eye. How many games does Nash have on his odometer, yet he put the team on his back and destroyed the Spurs; no matter how old they may be, those are still the San Antonio Spurs.
Everyone thought LeBron was having that moment in Game 3 when he had 21-8-4 at halftime, but in the 5 halves after that, he’s been average (if that).
Guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Kobe Bryant, Alex Ovechkin, and unfortunately Sindy Crosby, when it’s time, say “f–k it, I’m better than everyone else, I’m putting this team on my back and we’re not losing this game.” Even if the team does lose the game, it comes despite an other-worldly performance from any of these superstars.
I didn’t see LeBron turn on that switch last night, even thought it was a critical Game 5 at home, where a loss would have meant that the Celtics could close out the series at home in Boston. It was disappointing, very very disappointing.
Lets say the Cavaliers do come back and knock off the Celtics in Game 7 (if it even gets that far). With this level of play, they could very well get stomped by the Orlando Magic, who are playing fantastic basketball right now.
LeBron has to be other-worldly if this team is going to win it all, or even get out of the 2nd round. LeBron has got to be Neo in the Matrix, where the rules for other mortals don’t apply to him, and he plays at a completely different level than anyone else.
He has that potential, so it’s a question of: what is he waiting for?