Widgets Magazine

Golub: LeBron’s ghosts

This column reflects the opinion of the writer and does not in any way reflect the views of The Stanford Daily.

I selectively block out most of what LeBron says. I’m not a big fan of his, to say the least. Pretty much everything he does tends to piss me off. But he said something recently that caught my attention. It’s made me think about what he’s chasing.

About a year ago, LeBron gave the itchy media a juicy, chewy quote. which he knew they would slobber over for the rest of his career. “My motivation is this ghost I’m chasing.” And, as if he needed to clarify that he was talking about the consensus best basketball player of all time (yes, it’s unanimous, don’t come up here with some Bill Russell won 11 rings or Wilt scored 100 nonsense, because back when Russell and Wilt played there were a grand total of eight teams in the entire NBA), James added, “The ghost played in Chicago.”

I took his words to mean he was hell-bent on winning at least six championships, the same number as Michael Jordan. It made sense; he had just gotten his third ring and his Cavs seemed primed for a sustained run through the woeful Eastern Conference.

So I was surprised when LeBron responded the other day to a reporter’s question about passing MJ for total playoff points, something he will most likely do next game, that his Jordan chase wasn’t about stats. “It’s just a personal goal of mine,” LeBron claimed. “It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs.”

Look, I’m a LeBron hater. That fire started when he ditched Cleveland on national TV and started blazing when he lost in the finals. It was reignited when he chose to return to Cleveland coincidentally after losing in the finals and, by pure random chance and not ruthless pragmatism, exchanged a breaking-down D-Wade and aging Chris Bosh for the younger, fresher Kyrie and K-Love all-star teammates.

This is all while feasting on an overmatched Eastern Conference that has housed exactly one (Joakim Noah, never could have guessed he would make it into each of my first two columns) non-LeBron player on the All-NBA 1st Team. If that sentence was confusing, the point is: The East sucks. As a LeBron hater, I’m skeptical of everything he says. His statement above feels like an excuse. A cop out in case he doesn’t win more titles.

But the more I think about it, the more I believe him. It’s not because of how he says he’s just trying to “inspire the next group of kids that want to play the game the right way.” If that were true, maybe he’d practice his free throws every once in a while. I believe LeBron because I think he is sick of everyone constantly comparing stars to each other, and, more specifically, to MJ.

I think LeBron, having won one for the ‘Land and sitting firmly entrenched as the “best player in the NBA” regardless of who wins MVP (RUSS!), is comfortable setting his own goals and not following the media’s ever-moving goal posts. Yet, if this thinking is true, why would LeBron be chasing MJ’s ghost? Why is he creating that comparison for himself?

Michael is unique in American sports, perhaps sports in general, for his unanimous reputation as the GOAT. He had a relatively short career, thanks to his three retirements, yet went six for six in the finals and exerted his will on both ends of the court. His otherworldly athleticism, his supreme skill and, most of all, his homicidal-like competitiveness made Michael the ultimate basketball predator.

Jordan didn’t just beat teams; he devoured them. LeBron doesn’t have that same killer instinct. He has deferred to teammates on the biggest stages, like when he managed a measly eight points against the Mavs in his first finals with Miami. He’s already been to seven finals yet only won three. Just this week, he let a stomach bug subdue him and hold him to 11 points.

We all know what happened when Jordan was sick during a big game: he dropped 38 on the Jazz in a pivotal Game 5 of the ‘97 finals. LeBron’s legacy as a killer, as a winner, isn’t yet secure the same way Jordan’s is. LeBron isn’t untouchable. He hasn’t gotten to the point where people forget about the circumstances of his team or his conference and shower him with blind, undying praise.

Jordan has some big personal flaws. He’s had serious gambling issues his whole career, and he had a bad habit of eviscerating his teammates because they couldn’t match his fire. MJ, however, is perched on his throne as a basketball god. His nickname is literally “His Airness.” His god status makes him untouchable and overshadows everything else. What athlete, fan or sportswriter wants to fault the person who represents the peak of their passion?

If LeBron can reach that mountaintop, he too would be insulated from the insults and criticisms that have dogged him since he left Cleveland. The so-called King would finally be treated by the media and fans like the royalty he, and the refs (sorry, had to) think he is. More than jewelry, maybe that security is what drives LeBron.

 

Contact Jack Golub at golubj ‘at’ stanford.edu.