John Link is the best basketball player to ever come out of Padua High School in Cleveland, OH and one of the best players in the history of Case Western Reserve University's Men's Basketball Program as well. He currently works for OhioBasketball.com, and wrote the following for us here at Stepien Rules on Wednesday.
Speaking in upstate New York to a group at the University of Albany, Magic Johnson managed to ignite the discussion forums again about who is better than who in the NBA.
Normally Kobe Bryant and Lebron James are the discussion, or at least 2 of 3 or 4 names that are debated. Using championship rings as his benchmark, Johnson cut Lebron out of the discussion. Period. If I am 1 of 30 other GM’s in the NBA, I reluctantly find his comments a little more than mildly laughable.
I view Magic’s attack on James as flawed in that championships will always be a retroactive argument. His inability to win a ring thus far should not define him nor take away from his ability as a player…yet. If we are talking about legacies than yes, no one would/could fight for Lebron because he hasn’t really done anything yet. Lebron is an athletic freak. I will never root for a team that he is on, but one cannot deny his talent and physical gifts.
Currently he is the best player in the NBA, hands down, no ifs ands or buts about. Numbers don’t lie, and statistically he is our generation’s Oscar Robertson, and the perfect player to build a team around. Kobe will never assist like him, Wade will never board like him, Dirk does not have his handles or speed, and Durant is not as strong or athletic.
The only arguments against him as far as his physical game are concerned include his shooting and mid-range abilities, of which he has made improvements each year he's been in the League. He is a match-up nightmare that can play the 1 through 4 and be in the top 3 in the league in each different position immediately upon assuming that role. He is smack dab in the middle of his prime, which you cannot say about the other players Magic mentioned.
Two things need to happen though, for Lebron's ultimate potential to be maximized. First, he must fully and maturely embrace who he is. Second the organization he plays on must figure out the right pieces to put around him. In a perfect world Lebron would ditch his entourage and NBA fraternity friends for an off season OR two, OR three, OR four (too easy), lock himself in a basketball gym full of mirrors with one monitor playing back all the negative press that has transpired since the decision. He would only have to look at himself for that duration of time inside the gym and come to an epiphany that he takes the last shot, he barks out orders at teammates, he controls his legacy, he is the pimp from now on.
No more evasiveness in crunch time. No more social media. No more being friends with basketball players outside of his teammates. Words like mental toughness, integrity, real accountability, and tenacity should find their way into his everyday rhetoric. I have said for years that there has never been a player like Lebron, so no blueprint exists to build a team around him. He exhibits a combination of natural athleticism, speed, strength, size, and ability that has never been seen before. What pieces of a team are needed to highlight who he truly is as a player? The answer is a work in progress.
The Cavs couldn’t figure it out I suppose. The Heat have the overall talent to trump the correct pieces, but the final piece maybe inside the brain of James himself. Even though the Heat are set up to be good for years, I feel like the Lebron that maximizes his potential will never flourish where team leadership is open for debate. A side of me loved watching Wade reduce Lebron to a child in Game 3 of the Finals last June when he lashed out at James, but it was sort of a microcosm for his career to this point. He doesn’t know how to deal with the situations that are the most challenging on and off the court, because of this he shies away from the spotlight or makes bad decisions that leave us scratching our heads.
As Clevelanders, we all have our own story. I describe My family and I as “die hard yet fair weather” Cleveland sports fans. When Cleveland teams are good, or at least competing for the small possibility of post-season play, our lives are consumed when any of the 3 teams play. It is tough with a family/job/sanity to justify the investment of money or time to following teams that are out of post-season races plain and simple.
On July 8th, 2010 I was in Lexington, KY on business in a bar watching “THE DECISION”. The group I was with, plus some surrounding action seekers, cast lots as to which city he’d end up in. New York and Chicago were the runaway favorites at the time. My choice: Cleveland (1 of 2). My wife’s: Miami (one of one: I run events so she gets to help out part of the year with what I do…that’s what she was doing there). So much was learned that day about who Lebron James really was and my dollar on Cleveland says all you need to know about me. When the now infamous words “I have decided to take my talents to South Beach” were uttered I was crushed.
As the room spun and I pondered when the next chance Cleveland would have to actually compete for a championship in the relevant world of sports, I glanced at my wife, with a backdrop of flat screens showing burning crimson #23 jerseys, still holding her $15 in winnings, she flashed a reassuring smile and I knew life would go on. That is what he was to us: OUR BEST CHANCE! That is why it is tough for me to get over his decision after all this time, not to indulge in all that has been negative for Lebron since then, or to defend him in light of these new comments from Magic.
What Magic should have said is that many of the leagues’ best players today have already somewhat cemented their legacies. And as disappointing as it is in Lebron’s case, his resume cannot be compared to players that were “the man” on recent championship teams. They’ve been there Lebron has not. End of discussion, Magic saves a ton of face. I actually respect something that comes out of Mr. Johnson’s mouth as poignant and not obtuse. Minus a title James will =Ewing, will =Malone, will =Barkley and so on. Which, as someone whose life’s passion is basketball, is so disappointing because of the wasted super human physical gifts he was blessed with that even the best players in NBA history that have never wore a ring could claim to.
Could you imagine Karl Malone with James’ transition game/speed/quickness, or Ewing with James/Howard like athleticism, or Barkley at 6’9’’? Not saying these would have guaranteed them titles, but it would have helped a lot. Heck as crazy as it sounds, according to Magic even Dwayne Wade or Dirk Nowitski would go down as “better” than James if the NBA died today. Lebron is so far from his potential and the legacy we all see as possible for him that it is absurd and a travesty. The rest of the world cannot want it more for James, than James has to want it for himself.
He is still a child that needs to grow up though, and stop listening to the enablers in his life and deal with the implications of having the face he sees in the mirror. There is a fundamental lack of respect for Lebron in the media and pro sports in general because of his immaturity in his handling the opportunity his physical gifts have afforded him. He has and is currently blowing it. Maybe it wasn’t his fault early in his career because of how his upbringing impacted the buds of his manhood. But that argument is gone now. Learn Lebron, it is the only way to break free of the karma that surrounds you since your decision.
Many people hated Jordan, but everyone respected him. He went out and earned those trophies, they were his. Lebron is attempting to do it the easier, more lucrative and less respected way by exploiting a system that is now jeopardizing an entire season. Put simply, the business of the NBA aside, I think the sports world wants Michael’s (basketball/competitive) mind on top of Lebron’s body… imagine that, it is scary. Really a basketball god if you think about the possibilities. I don’t think you could create a better player on NBA 2K12.
But the thing is, that Lebron would have never left Cleveland (and Akron) in the first place. He’d have said to hell with Bosh, Paul, Wade, Twitter, Liverpool, LeBronJames.com and whatever else, that trophy is mine and I will work harder and beat anyone that stands in my way. And the shrine on public square that awaits the future facilitator of that first new C-Town championship would have been his.
The human side of me hopes he figures out how to attain his true potential, but the Clevelander in me hopes he never comes close. Even while he might be the best player in the League anyways.