HOT TAKE TIME: LeBron James just does not care the way Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant did. That’s why he’ll never be as great as them.
If that first paragraph sums up your feelings, you best just move along. We’re going to go for context here. And maybe a little nuance. Those things may frighten you, these shade of gray rather than a world of black and white. You’re better off sticking to most sports talk radio (or some nationally televised sports debate shows).
LeBron James is a well-rounded person with a family — he married his high school girlfriend — and children that are his priority. He’s built a brand and a business empire around himself , coming from the home of a single parent, and finding smart friends along the way he could trust to be his partners. He’s the first NBA superstar of the social media age, and with that has come plenty of criticism his predecessors in that spotlight never did.
All that leads to this question and answer from LeBron speaking to the media in Cleveland Tuesday.
Q. You’ve always said that throughout your career things never came easy, you always had to go the hard route, hard path. With this situation right here that you’re in, do you feel like this is not comfortable territory but territory that you’re accustomed to?
LEBRON JAMES: Yeah, it’s something I am accustomed to. It’s something that I feel like is — that it’s okay for me to kind of always go back and know that I can refocus. I can get my guys ready, get myself ready. But you hate to continue to put yourself in these positions, but at the end of the day it’s still just basketball, man, and that’s what gives me comfortable and I’m more comfortable about it because it’s just a game. I prepare myself, I’m going to go out and do my job and live with the results.
Of course, the line that will get pulled out of that and discussed until tip-off on Wednesday is “at the end of the day it’s still just basketball, man, and that’s what gives me comfortable and I’m more comfortable about it because it’s just a game.”
The hot take cannon will be firing shots all over the web and on radio waves about how LeBron just doesn’t love the game like Jordan. That is just flat-out BS. On several counts.
First, this is LeBron’s seventh straight Finals — he has been here before. He knows what has to be done. Some people will blast a lack of “not in my house” defiance from him, but that’s just simplistic. LeBron was literally in this spot with almost this exact same team one year ago (and they won Game 3 by 30), he knows the task at hand and a bunch of bravado is not the answer. Also, he said this in answer to a previous question, but it doesn’t make the same hot take:
“We got to protect home. It starts with tomorrow. One game at a time, one possession at a time, and cleaning up on some of the miscues that we have had in the first couple games and not have as many.”
Second, Jordan loved the game so much he partied in casinos and smoked cigars the nights before games. Can you imagine the images of Jordan that would have come out in an era of camera phones? Jordan is the GOAT (or you can at least argue that case very well), but we have mythologized him and his competitive obsession in a way that is not healthy. Same with Kobe. The emotional attachment of people to defend Jordan as the GOAT even when it’s not required always amuses me.
Third, LeBron is right. It’s a game. It’s entertainment. He was being honest, not waiving a white flag. He has unquestionably given his all this series, he’s done what he can to lift his team up. He’s incredibly competitive and if (when) they lose this series, he will rededicate himself to getting another ring next year no matter who stands in the way. But this is not the most important thing in the world by a long shot, and it’s not the most important thing in his life (he’s got people painting racial epithets on the gates of his home). Nor should it be. If it’s the most important thing in yours, maybe it’s time for some real self-evaluation.