LeBron, have a Snickers…

You’ve seen those Snickers commercials — the ones where Betty White and Aretha Franklin portray the prima donna sides of two guys (one playing tackle football, the other complaining about the AC on a long car ride)…if not, click below:

“Game” http://youtu.be/GkAnLtqWDhc

“Road Trip” http://youtu.be/_-qZOZa1y6c

Besides the fact that I derive endless comedy from them, every time I see the one with Aretha Franklin, I am instantly reminded of basketball’s biggest prima donna, Roc-A-Fella mascot, faux photographer extraordinaire, Global Icon, Spring sweater model, random Cowboys and Yankees fan, and “Chosen One” – LeBron “King” James.

As background of sorts, Atlanta’s my birthplace, so I bleed at least four shades of red (Falcons, Hawks, Braves, Bulldogs). Be that as it may, over time I have rooted for other teams in all of the major sports, and for various players on those teams, so I recognize and am willing to acknowledge greatness when it is displayed on the field or court. And I’m certainly not saying LeBron isn’t a great player, however I’ve reached my wit’s end with his primping and preening self-obsession.

One of my biggest problems with LeBron is that he was anointed “King” while still at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High — his mug plastered on SI and ESPN the Magazine — before he played a minute in the NBA. Beyond that, or maybe because of it, he has always acted as if greatness is his birthright, attributable to him (and his admittedly formidable game) by acclamation rather than actualization. Exhibits A and B: he was given a multi-million dollar Nike endorsement contract before he ever stepped foot on the court, and given a starting roster spot nearly as quickly. On the other hand, Kobe Bryant — against whom LeBron is most often measured for Best in Basketball — didn’t enter the league to anywhere near the deference given LeBron, despite a high school career arguably as celebrated as James’.

As a result, en route to four NBA titles, league Alpha Dog status and unanimity as the game’s “best closer,” Kobe has played with a remarkable chip on his shoulder, and has earned every bit of the respect he enjoys today. Despite being arguably the league’s best player since ’00-’01, his fifth season, Kobe didn’t win league MVP honors until ’07-’08, his TWELFTH season — by which time he was already a three-time champion. On the other hand, despite only one Finals APPEARANCE, LeBron has just collected his second MVP trophy in only his seventh NBA season. Which is, of course, a continuation of this theme of him being given the keys before passing his driver’s test.

Despite the schoolyard antics he routinely enjoys with his Cavs teammates, “King” James is arguably the most self-absorbed, self-conscious superstar in recent memory. How do we know this? His disturbing pre-occupation with putting himself above the team. How did he respond after the Celtics eliminated his Cavs in a tightly-contested Game 7 in the ’08 Eastern Conference Semis? LeBron went on at length in the postgame interview room about how he and Paul Pierce had given the fans a duel to rival Dominique’s and Bird’s Game 7 twenty years prior — as if this detachment from the outcome would deflect any blame that may accrue to his broad shoulders. After being rudely dismissed by the Orlando Magic in last year’s Eastern Finals (and failing to congratulate the victors)? He spent his summer largely in seclusion, emerging just long enough for conspicuous photo ops sporting t-shirts that read “LBJ|MVP” and “Check My $tats”. As if to say, “It wasn’t my fault we lost, I did my part — blame it on The Supporting Cast…”

Which is another massive problem I have with the “MVP”: after a victory during one of last year’s early-round playoff games, LeBron gave cursory credit to what he termed his “supporting cast.” Now, virtually every championship team in all of the major sports has had one or more superstars, surrounded by complementary talent at key positions. Never before, however, had I heard the best player on any of those teams refer to his teammates as “the supporting cast”: not only would that serve to marginalize and alienate them (his teammates), it would also figuratively place him (the superstar) above them, and would not bode well for the team’s championship prospects. Even if that is the pecking order — and, on championship teams, it almost always is — you NEVER verbalize that. Ever. You let your game do the talking, and your passion serve to elevate the surrounding talent and propel the entire team to glory. “King” James has yet to make this essential connection, thus he has yet to hoist championship hardware.

During his MVP acceptance speech last week, LeBron said that his goal is always “to be the best player on the court,” and that every time he steps foot on it, he basically wants the fans to acknowledge that he was such. The immortal Michael Jordan had a similar thought each game, however it was to give his greatest effort every time out, so as to provide that fan seeing him play for the first time his or her full money’s worth. That, to me, illuminates the fundamental difference in the two as players: in other words, Jordan primarily sought to *give* the fans a singular experience, whereas LeBron primarily seeks acclaim *from* his Witnesses, and until he reconciles the two, will never maximize his prodigious gifts.

Toward the end of the ’09-’10 regular season, when it became clear Kevin Durant would most likely win the scoring title, LeBron snapped, somewhat angrily:

“If I really wanted to,” James said, “if I really wanted to be the scoring [champion] every single year — every single year — I could really do it. But it doesn’t matter.”

By virtue of the fact that you acknowledged it, Bron, it must. Let’s let MJ sum up the difference between individual and team accomplishments:

“There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” -Michael Jordan

As for this season, it remains to be seen whether “King” James can overcome his nagging elbow injury and lead the Cavs over the hump to their long-awaited championship, or if he’ll use the injury as an excuse should they fall short of the finish line yet again. Either way, the next time he grimaces after a play, implying the elbow hindered him, I’ll feel justified in saying “LeBron, you’re playing like Betty White out there…”


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