It’s far from a surprise that attention has moved on to the upcoming free agency sweepstakes even as the Warriors just put the finishing touches on an successful 2017-2018 campaign. It’s the way competition has evolved in the modern era. The demands of winning places a significant burden on those who aim to break the supremacy of the blue and yellow, and to an extent that any advantage, real or imagined, is sought. And a head start is especially crucial in prepping for all the wheeling and dealing beginning next month, what with LeBron James, still the best of the best and fresh off an otherworldly playoff campaign, slated to go through The Decision 3.0.
Significantly, James’ immediate past showing — arguably the finest of his 15-year career — isn’t enough to quell the scope and extent of criticism being thrown his way. To a vocal minority, it’s as if he can do no right, or that he does rarely and with caveats. True, he’s not perfect. Then again, nobody is. He may be a prima donna, but so was, say, Michael Jordan. He may complain a lot, but not unlike, say, Tim Duncan. He may covet the limelight, but so does, say, Kobe Bryant.
From the vantage point of most other quarters, James is, at worst, the second-best player to have ever graced the hardwood. His peak is nowhere near Jordan’s, but his longevity cannot be denied. And in assessing his place in history, context is important. For instance, naysayers are fond of pointing out that he’s three and six in the Finals. Yet, advanced analytics comparing strength of rosters show that of those nine appearances, only in 2011 did he not exceed expectations.
It’s easy for — and the right of — fans and armchair pundits to draw conclusions based on subjective arguments. Some like apples. Others like oranges. The flipside, of course, is that it’s even easier not to engage in differentiation, and to just appreciate greatness as it unfolds regardless of source. Before James set foot in the NBA as a Number One draft pick, he already carried the burden of unreasonable demands. And yet he has, throughout his career, exceeded them.
By all accounts, James has an outstanding work ethic, the first to arrive in the weight room and the last to leave the practice court. He leads by example, and is most certainly a role model. He’s socially aware, has donated considerable time and money to help the plight of the less fortunate, and avoids trouble. He’s a devout family man and has never fallen prey to temptations of stardom.
All things considered, it’s no wonder, then, that James is looked up to my those whose opinions matter most to him: other players. They’re in awe of his exploits, and there can be no better psychic income than that coming from his peers, who know exactly how hard it is to compile a body of work like his. Which is why franchises are scrambling to engage his services, never mind his high-maintenance predilections. He’s worth the headaches, and the risk of upending the status quo for the prospect of greatness.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.