If Shakespeare was alive today he would write about LeBron James. The story of the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar is the NBA’s ultimate tragedy. The Cavaliers entered the NBA Season as the favourite to win the Eastern Conference and battle the Warriors for the NBA Championship. They had shed Kyrie Irving who was shrivelling in the shadow of his King. When Gordon Hayward broke his leg in the opening game, the Celtics seemed destined to miss their shot at a Conference Championship.
Yet in the ultimate plot twist, the Celtics are on top of the East without their star recruit and lead by James’ former lieutenant and the Cavaliers are staring down the barrel of missing the finals altogether.
King James seems destined to walk through the NBA in the twilight of his career searching for glory, loved and unloved by NBA supporters in equal measure, experiencing incredible success but never enough to be completely satisfied.
ESPN describes the chaos around James at the moment as ‘unprecedented’ and his ‘time is running out’. It appears that he will walk away from the Cavaliers a second time, having delivered them an NBA Championship but still unable to be truly embraced.
Why can’t he find a home?
Born in Akron, Ohio and playing his early basketball at St Vincent-St Mary High School, James was destined for basketball stardom. His selection as the number one draft pick in 2003 landed him at the Cavaliers, his home team. As is often the case with a number one draft pick, James was burdened with great expectation and rose to instant success but could never find an NBA Championship with such a poor team around him.
Whilst his move to Miami seemed cursed from the moment he made ‘The Decision’ James found the NBA Championship he desired in both 2012 and 2013. LeBron isn’t at home with any particular team, he is only truly comfortable in an atmosphere of success. Winning is his oxygen.
Will he ever be as good as Air Jordan?
Jordan was named NBA MVP 5 times and won 6 NBA Championships and 6 NBA Finals MVP awards.
James has been named NBA MVP 4 times and won 3 NBA Championships and 3 NBA Finals MVP awards.
Whilst statistically Jordan is about as clutch as it gets, he ticks both boxes when it comes to an amazing sporting legacy. He not only achieved unfathomable success but he was able to do it with one NBA team in his prime. Whilst Jordan experienced his own controversies including his flirtation with professional baseball, there was never any question in anyone’s mind that his home was Chicago.
Will he ever be satisfied?
If you think of some of the best players in the NBA, their legacy was not wholly defined by their ability to win NBA Championships, instead they were respected for the way they stuck by their team through the good times and the bad. Think Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Gary Payton or Karl Malone. They became the face of the franchise in New York, Utah and Seattle during the prime of their career. They embraced the city.
Time appears to haunt LeBron James. Whereas traditionally NBA franchises built foundations around star players and moved slowly towards Championship contention, current NBA players seem to be demanding immediate success and will travel to find it.
LeBron James is burdened by the weight of his own future legacy. Gifted with unbelievable talent yet knowing that he will never be the ‘greatest’ player in the NBA. And despite his brilliance that is the one thing he always wanted but will likely never achieve.
He will retire as one of the greatest players in NBA history, having won the respect of basketball fans but never their hearts.