LeBron James and a golden transformation

33 Comments

A year ago, LeBron James didn’t exist.

After mourning in his house over the loss of the NBA Finals for several weeks, dealing with the way his entire world had been turned upside down, how the public had revolted against him, James was simply absent. He rarely made appearances if ever at the NBA-NBPA meetings in futile efforts to resolve the lockout. He didn’t bring his weight to the negotiation. He didn’t do publicity tours or release cartoons or even commercials. He wasn’t making terrible, facepalm-inducing comments. He was just silent.

He didn’t exist.

Twelve months later, and James’ statements have been made with his actions. And his exposure is not in the form of boneheaded press conference comments or a television special in a plaid shirt, but in the simple step to the podium and a grasp of his legacy.

If the NBA Finals were the rise of James as the undisputed best player in the world and a dramatic shift in his legacy, Sunday’s win over Spain in the gold medal game of the 2012 Olympic games was the cementing of that identity. Draped in the American flag on NBC, when asked about his accomplishments over the past year, James responded with nothing complex, controversial, or self-centered. It was simple.

“This is all about USA.”

In truth, the Olympics showed maybe even more than the NBA season what James’ stature is. On a team of the greatest players in the world, James was the rock. When the offense stalled, James would force his way to the rim with his singular athleticism. When the ball movement became stagnant, James would probe, post, and dish, drawing multiple defenders and leaving players like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony wide open on the perimeter. It was an elite showing of his all-around, every-position skills.

Late in the fourth, Rudy Fernandez foolishly went to challenge a ball-fake from James, leaving the lane wide open when Marc Gasol rotated to cover an off-ball screen. James detonated to the rim and finished with authority. His three-pointer minutes later was the kind of shot he said he was done with, but its satisfying fall through the net a reminder that there is no shot he can’t hit, no ability he does not have in the bag.

James was not the spokesman on the team, nor the emotional leader. That was Kobe Bryant. Similar to Magic Johnson’s role in ’92, Bryant was the player that spoke first and most authoritatively for Team USA. He spoke on the identity, on their goals, on who they were and why they were there. James, Durant, Melo they all deferred to the five-time champion playing in his final Olympics. But on the floor, just like it was with Jordan, it was apparent. James was the best. Kevin Durant’s scoring ability cannot be bested, and it was a collective effort by Team USA to form a cohesive identity. But James’ ability to defend, create the break, pass in transition or in the post, and to attack the rim separated him.

James is the best player in the NBA, in America, on the planet. And if alien life is discovered and they know how to play basketball, you have to like James’ chances there, too.

James will still be hated by many and there is an undercurrent of rumor that James hasn’t changed his personality, that his new identity is simply the result of a new PR team that has focused on shifting how he relates. He’s no longer as candid, and that’s a good thing. He’s no longer as loose-lipped, and that’s a good thing. He’s abandoned his perimeter game by about 80 percent, even in a game with a shortened three like under FIBA rules. He’s somehow taken the vast number of talents he has and made them make more sense together, linked them to one another.

Maybe he’s not more likable. But it’s impossible not to respect what he’s capable of, and how he leads by example.

The 2012 Olympic Gold Medal in basketball will be remembered for the talk of how they match up with the Dream Team (hint: they don’t), for Kobe’s last run, for Kevin Love’s coming out party and Kevin Durant stepping to the stage as the deadliest shooter in the world (if he wasn’t already). But there will also be the knowledge that there is no step back for LeBron, no reconfiguration of his identity, no regression. After three months of the best basketball he could play, he threw another six weeks on, added his gold medal, and left no doubt.

The King has his ring, and the gold to go with it.

Report: Detroit Pistons become latest team with jersey ad deal, link up with Flagstar Bank

Darren Rovell on Twitter.
Leave a comment

Those new Nike NBA jerseys will have a little more flair and style than the Adidas ones — and I like that teams now can choose what color to wear at home, rather than be forced to don white.

Those jerseys also will have ads on them for a lot of teams.

Detroit is going to be one of them, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN. They will announce a deal Wednesday with Flagstar Bank.

When the season starts and people start to see the ads on jerseys during games… there will be a national shrug.

Sure, some curmudgeon will write a complaining newspaper column about how this is just greed, and that will get him spots on talk shows and networks to spout his “get off my lawn” rant. Fans, however, will shrug. It’s a small patch on the shoulder. In person at games, nobody will notice. On television, you will be able to see it when a guy takes a free throw and they do a close up of him, but you’ll have to look for it. Younger fans, and rational fans, will move along.

If the owners make a few more dollars — half of which goes to the players — then fine. It’s not a big deal. Will people also complain about the Nike swoosh on the other shoulder? Of course not. Of the ad deals, 25 percent goes to the team, 25 percent is shared with other owners in a revenue pool (that has numerous other sources), and 50 goes to the players through contracts (it is part of the “basketball related income” that helps set the salary cap number).

It’s progress. Times are changing, and a rose-colored glasses view of the past will not change that, in sports or anywhere else.

Magic sign 2nd-round pick Wesley Iwundu

Getty Images
Leave a comment

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The Orlando Magic have signed second-round pick Wesley Iwundu to a contract.

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman announced the deal on Tuesday. Reports from Iwundu’s agent, Austin Walton, said the deal was worth $4.1 million over three years, with a partial guarantee on the final season.

Iwundu was selected No. 33 overall in last month’s draft. In the Orlando Summer League he averaged 5.6 points per game on 30.3 percent shooting.

In college, he played in 132 games, with 124 starts, in four years at Kansas State where the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds a game.

Watch the top 100 dunks of the last NBA season (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Like you’ve got something better to do on a Wednesday morning than watch 22 minutes of dunks.

Every night on the NBA calendar — from opening night through the NBA Finals — there are impressive dunks. NBA players are insane athletes who need only the smallest gap to create memorable plays, and occasionally they don’t even need a gap. It’s a fun watch.

Although, with all due respect to Victor Oladipo, I don’t know how Larry Nance Jr.’s throw down over now teammate Brook Lopez came in second.

 

Anthony Davis says he is tired of losing, Pelicans look good on paper

1 Comment

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis says a New Orleans Pelicans are “tired of losing” and have the roster to do something about it.

That is, if they can find a new offensive scheme that suits their mixture of incumbent starters and recent acquisitions.

“We can’t wait for the season to come and try to make some noise here in the loaded West,” Davis said Tuesday afternoon while promoting a youth camp he’ll host in early August.

“We’re doing everything, whether it’s signing players, trading players … whatever it is to just try to make sure that we try to be a winning organization,” he added. “We have the tools right now to be successful. … Right now, I think we look good on paper. So we’ve just got to figure it out.”

The Pelicans will likely need the right scheme, good chemistry and good health to contend in the Western Conference, which features defending champion Golden State as well as Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

Davis is optimistic that could happen. He’s been working out this offseason with fellow All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins, and he fully endorsed the recent signing of veteran point guard Rajon Rondo.

Davis said Rondo’s savvy play-making and defensive acumen will strengthen the New Orleans on both ends while also allowing Jrue Holiday to become more of a scoring threat from the shooting guard spot.

When the Pelicans re-signed Holiday to a five-year, $126 million contract to open free agency, general manager Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry mentioned the possibility of playing Holiday off the ball more, and the acquisition of Rondo should allow that, Davis said.

“When I first heard about Rondo, I thought it was a good situation for us,” Davis said. “He knows when to get guys involved, when to make that pass.”

Davis said Rondo and Holiday also will be a formidable defensive tandem along the perimeter, meaning the Pelicans’ All-Star big men should have more chances to protect the rim and rebound. He said Rondo’s long arms and big hands help him disrupt drives and passes as well as rebound.

“They’re going to give a lot of guards, this year, problems,” Davis said. “It’s always good when you can add a guy who knows how to play defense.”

By the time Davis hosts his clinic for kids Aug. 7-8 at the University of New Orleans, he’ll have spent a considerable portion of the offseason working out with Cousins, who was acquired in a trade after last season’s All-Star game.

As the fellow All-Stars prepare to enter their first full season together, Davis said Cousins is trying to adapt and further develop his game. Coaches and teammates have complemented Cousins this summer on how he looks after committing to a conditioning program than has helped him shed some weight and improve his endurance.

“We know we’re going to be the big focal points on every team’s scouting report, so we just wanted to get together and work at it together and figure out the things we like to do,” Davis said. “He’s trying to adapt. He wants to win for sure and we didn’t have that much time last year. … He’s trying to do whatever the team asks him to do.”

Davis said he’s supposed to meet with new assistant coach Chris Finch soon to start discussing the offensive scheme he envisions when New Orleans’ top two front-court stars are playing together. Finch could be a good fit because of his recent experience on Denver’s staff helping versatile young big men Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic play effectively as teammates.

Davis said the Pelicans want to emulate “how they ran their offensive package with those two bigs who are very skilled.