Monday, July 26, 2010

Why LeBron Doesn't Need to be "The Man"

July 26, 2010

As we have seen with the enormous flak LeBron James has received as a result of his offseason decision to join the Miami Heat, there seems to be a fascination with wanting NBA superstars to be "the man" on "their" respective teams. After all, both the media and the fans enjoy labeling former greats like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and a host of other elites as "the man."

Perhaps it gives them a sense of comfort in identifying the single most valuable person on previous NBA championship teams. Or maybe they want to emphasize the greatness of the individual over the value of the collective team. "Jordan did it all by himself," they say. "Bird was the man in Boston," they proclaim.

However their legacies were ultimately built on a single common thread: The fact that they were NBA champions multiple times. Not their dominance as the centerpiece of a particular squad.

While the likes of Karl Malone, Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley are no-doubt Hall of Famers, they will always be regarded as just one notch below the aforementioned players. Why? Because those rings matter more than any statistics, individual awards or accolades could ever be worth. Mr. Jordan would never be considered "the greatest" had he not played alongside the proper caliber players and won the titles that he did. Whether he was "the man" or not, what mattered to the city of Chicago was the titles he brought to their region.

Nevertheless, individuals such as Robert Horry, Steve Kerr and Ron Harper will forever be labeled champions, without either being "the man" or staying loyal to one team. Their legacies will be draped with success, having accomplished the most coveted goal of the sport various times.

So what does it matter to the critics of LeBron James whether his decision eliminates him from the label of "the man?" Being "the man" is besides the fact in today's NBA world. The Association's top players all allocate championships as first and foremost in their list of priorities.

Remember, while basketball may be a business for media outlets and team executives, it is still a game of competition among the players themselves. The age old practice of sticking to one team through several years of mediocrity is less common in the current NBA era. Kevin Garnett paid his dues as the franchise player in Minnesota for 12 seasons prior to making the move to Boston, and was not given much criticism for his decision. Was it the fact that he committed over a decade's worth of title-less basketball that made his decision acceptable? But James' seven-year commitment to the Cavaliers does not place him in the same light?

James' decision was proactive rather than reactive. Instead of being "31 years old, with bad knees and no title," with the Cavaliers, James will be competing every season for at least half a dozen years in Miami. Clearly, in the seven seasons that James played in Cleveland the front office did not prove that they could build a championship roster. On the contrary, Pat Riley had a proven track record of assembling the right pieces for a title contending team in Miami.

In addition to that, staying loyal to a single team and expecting that talent will be built around oneself can be a bit of an egotistical move. The only difference between having talent built around you and leaving to surround yourself with a talented team is ego and luck. Ego to believe that "you" are the one that needs to be catered to. And luck to have a good enough front office and available talent in the market to build a championship team around "you."

What James did was sacrifice his chance to be an alpha dog and receive the brunt of a team's fame and fortune for the sake of winning the ultimate prize. Whether he is mentioned in the same sentence as previous "men" in NBA history or not, the rings on his fingers will be the most resounding part of his legacy. And he seems just fine with that.

LeBron made a decision based on reason rather than emotion.

LeBron made a decision to pave his own legacy rather than trail behind Jordan's.

LeBron made a clear statement to the world: "The ring" transcends "the man."

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