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Friday, June 22, 2012

Why Lebron James isn't or will ever be a true Champion

So Lebron James finally won his first NBA Championship last night, as the Miami Heat easily dispatched of the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 in game five to win the best of seven series 4-1.

As the confetti and trophy presenation to James, Dwyane Wade, and their Miami cohorts began, it got me to thinking: Is Lebron James one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball?

If you look at what he has accomplished to date, all the accolades would indicate that he is, in fact, among the best to ever lace them up. Multiple regular season MVP.  MVP of the all-star game. And, as we all saw last night, he can now add another title to his resume: NBA Champion.

But does Lebron really deserve to be called a champion?

No, and it's not even close.

Do champions run away when the going gets tough? No. Lebron felt that it was ultimately too hard to win a championship in Cleveland, and decided the alternative, moving to Miami to team with the Heat's Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, was what he needed to get over the hump. Never mind that in the history of the NBA, only one other person has ever won a championship leaving the team that drafted him in his prime: Shaquille O'Neal.

O'Neal, unlike James, did not make a spectacle when he moved from Orlando to Los Angeles. He also did not claim he would win multiple titles upon arriving in LA even before he had his first ring. He went out and played ball, and would go on to win three titles with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers. It was never about him, just about the team.

That was the big thing that angered me last night and prompted me to write this post today. It seemed that last night was less about the Miami Heat winning, and more about Lebron James getting his first title. Even ABC decided to get in on the act, paying homage to the struggle that Lebron had to finally become an NBA Champion.

But was it really that much of a struggle? Lebron had been pampered throughout high school, playing on the best AAU teams during the summer. He would go on to put his school, Akron St.-Vincent-St. Mary, on the basketball map with his stellar play.

Then it was on to the NBA. Within a few years of joining the Cavaliers, he had them in the playoffs.  A couple years after that, he even had them in the NBA finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Despite getting swept by the Spurs in that series, 4-0, it was assumed the experience he gained would allow him to take the next step and bring Cleveland its first ever NBA title.

However, three years later Lebron and the Cavs still were without rings. The time had come for James to make what would be the hardest decision of his career to that point. How would he handle it? With the humility of a champion? Hardly, unless you consider an hour long special dedicated to a decision that could have been issued via a 30 second press release humble. But at least there was the glimmer of hope that the greatest athlete state of Ohio had ever seen would tough it out to bring his hometown a championship.

Yet there's the rub. James decided, in fact, it wasn't going to be easy to win a title in Cleveland, and thus bolted for Miami to team up with his buddy Dwyane.  Of course, there are many who felt that David Robinson would never win a championship with the Spurs. Robinson's loyalty would be rewarded, as he would finally get his first ring in 2003.

And everyone thinks that all this hatred for Lebron revolves around his decision to leave his 'hometown.' Certainly that has something to do with it. I mean, at the very least he could have thanked the city of Cleveland for its support after he left town, but did he do so? No, to this day he has hardly acknowledged the role Cleveland and the Cavs played in his development as a player.

Then there is the infamous pep rally held in Miami that would lead the rest of the nation (save for south beach) to pile on the list of the king's haters.

But the real reason Lebron isn't, or will never be, a champion? He took the easy way out. He could have stayed in Cleveland, and tried to make it work with the team that drafted him. Even if he had never won a title at least he would have gone down as one of the all time greats. Yet he left his former team, one that bent over backwards trying to make him happy, for one that had amassed a collection of superstars built to win a championship. So the question then wasn't if he would win a title but when. Sure he has worked on his game, but maybe not as much as if he stayed on the Cavs.  He has also made his teammates around him better players as well. But it is much easier to do when you team up with two other all-star players.

So Heat fans(including those who joined the bandwagon in 2010) you can rejoice that Lebron has finally won his first title.  Because he is definitely one of the great players. But a champion? Not necessarily.

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