The year of redemption for LeBron James is reaching dizzying heights now. NBA MVP, NBA champion, NBA finals MVP, gold medal all in one year. His arc is reaching the highest of heights.
And the praise keeps pouring in for him. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is stepping away from USA Basketball after serving as an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski for a decade. He has seen the evolution of LeBron from the guy Jerry Colangelo considered not inviting to Beijing to the unquestioned leader of the gold medal team in London.
Boeheim was on the Colin Cowherd show on ESPN Radio and his praise of LeBron went so far as to compare him to the guy currently on top of most “greatest ever to play the game” lists (via The Big Lead, who listens to Cowherd so you don’t have to).
“He’s a leader. He gets on the court, he tells people what to do … this guy can guard five [positions] … put him on anybody, he can guard him. I always felt Michael Jordan was the best player I’ve ever seen … I didn’t think it was close … and I’m not so sure anymore … this guy is 6-9, 260 pounds and he’s getting better … I know we’ve had great, great players through the years. He’s like Magic Johnson with Michael Jordan-type skills as well.”
LeBron has not near equalled Michael Jordan’s career accomplishments. Nobody sane suggests that he is. But he is starting to reach the full potential of his ridiculous talent and that might be compared with anyone.
The question was never LeBron’s talent. Physically on the court he has had the skills to be mentioned with Jordan and Magic since he set foot in the league. His game was always more Magic or Oscar Robertson than Jordan, but Jordan is the greatness benchmark for the next generations.
The question with LeBron has always been about the maturity and the competitive fire — he has never burned as hot as Jordan. Or Kobe. And in Cleveland LeBron still seemed to be about having fun and being around his guys more than winning. That’s at least how it looked outside his tight circle.
But he has evolved in Miami. Maybe it is he is now 27, no longer 21. Maybe it is Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, more serious minded guys. Maybe it is Pat Riley. Most likely it is a combination of all of it and more.
But for the past year LeBron has started to live up to his potential and the sky-high expectations on him. And those who are close to him to see what he has evolved into, even veteran guys like Boeheim, are taken aback by what he has become.