From Chosen One to Forgotten One

How we (almost) forgot about the sustained greatness of LeBron.

The NBA Finals mark a magical time of year. All year long teams have shuffled the deck in order to contend for a chance to make a good season one that can never be erased from the history books. Minus the few teams tanking to strengthen their draft stock, every team is jockeying for a coveted spot in the limelight of the NBA Finals — well everyone in the Western Conference that is. For six straight years LeBron James has marked the Finals as his kingdom; and all the rest of the Eastern Conference better accept defeat or hope they’re on his team.

Despite all the praise we, as basketball fans, have lauded to every other superstar in the league, we constantly take for granted the brilliance, the sustained greatness of LeBron James. Maybe it is because we can try to shoot 30-foot bombs like Steph Curry (try…and fail) but we can’t imagine overpowering the best athletes in the world to finish with an emphatic dunk. Or maybe it is that we have taken LeBron — once the Chosen One and now the Forgotten One — for granted.

Let us not forget a man who has done so much on the basketball court for so long. He has been ridiculed for not being like MJ when in fact he is more like Magic. He puts his mark on every statistical category and has an attention to detail more vivid than some of the greatest perfectionists the game has ever seen. In writing about the emergence of Stephen Curry, in March, as the next player to take the “crown” of the game’s greats, I warned us to not forget about LeBron. He has led the league in the kitchen sink VORP statistic more seasons than anyone — 10 and besides a little wear and tear his performance seems as if it continue for another half-decade.

Greatness can be measured in many ways and being better than your peers is one of the greatest markers. LeBron, just last week, received his 10th first team all-NBA selection (his 9th straight). He is one of only 10 players in the history of the league to do so and only two have ever done better (Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone with 11). LeBron’s career is not made or broken by whether he wins his third ring this June. What makes him so remarkable is not just the awards and accolades but how he has evolved to remain at the league’s peak.

One of the crutches of many an NBA player is the inability to understand their strengths and weaknesses. LeBron has, at times, flirted with three pointers, but he has grown to know just how much of a force he can be around the basket. The analytics movement has made know the inefficiencies of the long two — what used to be one of LeBron’s favorite shots — but it seems the King has been listening. With age and experience comes wisdom and LeBron has recognized the abilities of his teammates each year and adjusted accordingly. Cleveland has surrounded their homegrown star with outside shooters so LeBron has sacrificed outside shooting to them — fostering much success.

Changing where you shoot is one thing, but consistently making shots at an efficient rate for over a decade is another. LeBron has shot at 53% from 2-point land for his career and even lead the league this year in shots made inside the arc. He has remained the league’s greatest force inside the three-point arc, finishing at an astonishing 72.5% from within 3 feet of the basket for his career. Through double teams, contact, and doubt LeBron has become the model for consistency.

His name will be sung amongst the most transcendent and the most dominant ever. But if you have forgotten just how spectacular he is, or have been in another world for over a decade, turn on your television these Finals. Watch how LeBron glides from guarding centers to an MVP point guard. How he outthinks entire defenses as if he is playing chess while they are still mastering checkers. Don’t just watch the otherworldly displays of athleticism but watch how he leads, how he makes a pass no other player could imagine let a lone make with such ease, and how focused he is after having sustained such success for so many years. Watch him, win or lose, because he remains one of basketball’s brightest stars.


Originally published at ninety-fourbyfifty.blogspot.com.