Far From A Rivalry

Samori Benjamin


When Lebron James was a senior in high school and ballyhooed more than any other high school athlete of his era, many raised eyebrows when James’ mother Gloria took out a loan to buy her son a hummer automobile halfway through the school year.    A few months later Lebron became Nike’s chosen one and the billion dollar sneaker giant made James’ bank account $90 million fatter.  A couple months after that James was drafted into the NBA by the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Seven years later James has incredibly lived up to the immense billing he got coming out of high school, and more.  Since his first game in November 2003 he carried a Cavaliers franchise that spent most of its NBA years before Lebron as either a bottom basement team or a team fighting to stay above mediocrity.  Save for the Mark Price, Craig Ehlo, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty Cavaliers of the late 80’s and early 90’s, the Cavaliers presence on the NBA landscape had been minuscule at best. Then Lebron came.

                The NBA has a draft lottery system where the worse team in the league does not necessarily get the first pick in the draft.  Since the lottery system was instituted in 1985 the team with the worst record in the NBA has only won and gotten the chance to select first overall four times.  The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of those four teams.  By his third season James had the Cavaliers in the playoffs and the following season he had them in the NBA Finals at age 22 where he ran into a San Antonio Spurs team that was winning its fourth NBA title in Nine years as they swept James and the Cavaliers.  But no fault on James’ part.  Lebron would have had to be Superman himself to lead the Cavaliers to four wins and an NBA championship over the San Antonio Spurs. 

It would have been more spectacular than anything Jordan did in his career had he carried the Cavaliers and won that series because James did not have his Scottie Pippen.  Which is the biggest reason why he has not made it back to the NBA Finals in the three seasons since.  With his back to back MVP awards the last two seasons and the numbers he’s put up no one has accomplished more individually in the first seven years of their career than Lebron James has.  He has carried the Cavaliers to 60 plus win seasons  the past two seasons with a supporting cast that shows how much they ride on the coattails of their star and are unable to do much on their own once the late games of May roll around.  Which is also the reason why he decided to part ways with Cleveland and Northheast Ohio. 

James had a number of able and willing suitors who all presented him with intriguing opportunities.  It would have been a bad career decision for Lebron to stay in Cleveland with a basketball team that has been unable to significantly upgrade their roster in the seven years since he’s been there.  If he had decided to stay in Cleveland the story would not have been as intriguing as him going to start a new chapter with any of the number of cities that were after him.  During his “Decision” show on espn in which he was interviewed by Jim Gray and told the country he was leaving Cleveland for Miami James stated that the biggest factor in his decision was going to a team where he could win a championships “immediately.”  A lot of critics say until Lebron wins a championship his career will in a sense be a failure, but a lot of us have a certain criteria on how the great “King James” has to win a championship which would mean winning one without going and pairing up with someone almost as equally as great as he in Dwayne Wade.  That’s because Lebron is so great that he has the game to one day be looked at as good or better than Michael Jordan depending on how the rest of his career goes and how many titles he wins, and even though Michael played with a hall of fame sidekick in Scottie Pippen, Pippen was not as great as Dwayne Wade who pulled off a Jordanesque performance in the 2006 NBA Finals while leading an aging Miami Heat team to a championship after falling down 0-2 in the series.  But if James only truly cares about winning championships immediately then going to Miami to team up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh clearly gives him the best chance to do just that.  Maybe the greatness of his championship victories will be hurt a bit in the minds of some when he wins his first or second NBA title because of the greatness of Wade but if Miami can run off four, five, six championships in a row then everyone will have to reevaluate the path James took with his career and the greatness of it.  We all know James and Wade are students of the game, for all we know they could be sitting around talking about how they have the potential to be the greatest NBA basketball team of all-time.  Does anyone doubt with the greatness of these three superstars that at some point during their time together on South Beach that they can challenge Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ all-time regular season record of 72-10 that they set in the 1996-97 season?  If these things happen we will all have to reevaluate the legacy of Lebron James.

James, Wade, and Bosh were never the kind of rivals the way the prominent figures of the 1980’s NBA were.  To denounce what the new Miami trio has done by saying that Magic, Larry, Issiah, and Jordan would have never teamed up with one another is a joke.  It’s true that it would have been a wack move to see these guys team up in the prime of their careers rather than oppose each other the way they so often did in their careers.  But these guys all faced off against one another in the NBA playoffs and built intense and at times bitter and nasty rivalries with each other.  The playoffs are where rivalries are made. The aforementioned stars of the 80’s opposed each other many times in the playoffs which would have made a pairing of stars in that era impossible.    In the seven years James, Wade, and Bosh have been in the NBA the grand total of times the three have faced each other in a playoff series is zero.  Not once has Lebron matched up against Wade in a playoff, Or Wade faced off against Bosh or James faced off against Bosh’s Raptors.  So these three never built up a serious on court rivalry against one another.  Then on the flipside all three gentleman came out of the same 2003 draft class, have spent multiple summers together playing on the men’s National basketball team, so it’s natural to see how they built up such a friendship and how they could want to play together.   And the best part about Lebron James’ espn “the decision” broadcast on espn is that he raised $5 million to the Boys and Girls Club.  All the hate should cease with that simple number.  Another note, when you look at the greatness of a player like Tracy McGrady who is a two-time NBA scoring champion with similar size and game to James, and see Mcgrady has never been able to get his team out of the first round of the playoffs while James has never failed to make it out of the first round then you begin to see the true greatness of what Lebron James has done over the first half of his career.

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