Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LeBron's Lament: Does the King Need to Stand By Someone Else's Throne?

What's the difference between LeBron James and Ken Griffey Jr.?

Junior has the decency to go back to the clubhouse to catch himself a nap (allegedly). LeBron was seen several times during last night's Eastern Conference Semifinal Game 5 standing off by himself near the three-point line, totally uninvolved in what was happening with his team's offense or defense.

When he tried to involve himself, it was usually by way of a 20-foot jumpshot rather than trying to assert himself at the rim.

Is he injured, distracted, or overwhelmed? Any of the three are understandable.

His elbow's probably painful, he's got the entire future of the NBA clinging to his summer travel itinerary, and he's got all the questions coming his way for whatever failures occur with the Cavaliers. And he appears to be getting tired of the questions.

The elbow will heal, his decision will come and go, but if he stays in Cleveland, he'll still have all the questions.  There's only one place he can go to escape some of them.

Contrary to everyone's expectations that LeBron and Dwyane Wade are destined to ride off into the sunset on twin bullet trains to New York, that won't get either of them where they want to be.

If LeBron's getting annoyed with the tone of the questions he's getting in his hometown, what the hell does he think is going to happen in New York? The Post, Times, and News will all line up to take whacks at him just as enthusiastically as New York Magazine is trying to woo him right now. He'll be the three-swings-for-a-quarter derelict car that every writer will be smashing with a verbal sledgehammer.

No one will feel sorry for a guy whose nickname is "The King" and whose interest in becoming that rarest of animals, the billionaire athlete, is well-known. Nike won't be able to save him from the press in New York.

But Miami? Miami is D-Wade's town. So why would LeBron go there?

Precisely for that reason. It's D-Wade's town. D-Wade will get a great deal of the questions when things go wrong, much like Michael Jordan shouldered most of the burden in Chicago. Anywhere else, even including D-Wade's hometown of Chicago, it's still LeBron and Wade, in that order.

Most of the free agency speculation about this summer has focused on LeBron going somewhere with a guy like Wade or Chris Bosh who can be Robin to his Batman, Pippen to his Jordan, Baba-Looey to his Quick Draw McGraw. Now, if he's tired of having all the disappointment and vitriol laid at his feet, maybe LeBron's more open to being the Pippen to Dwyane Wade's Jordan.

James has said often that a championship is the ultimate motivation. With as little energy as he showed in Game 5, it certainly seems that he's doubting his current team's championship potential. What he needs is a player who's strapped a team to his back and knows what it takes to get a ring. A player with the killer mentality to dominate a game singlehandedly, and still do it on the biggest stage of all. Right now, there are only two such players in the NBA.

One is Kobe Bryant. No, LeBron's not going to be a Laker.

The other is Dwyane Wade, who's had firsthand experience of carrying a team to the top of the mountain, practically by himself.

As good as LeBron is, we've got to go back to 1994 to find a team that was able to win the NBA Championship without two or more players who could be considered "stars." Even then, it's not unfair to say that Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets won because they were in that trough while Michael Jordan was hitting pop-ups in Birmingham, and they were winning the Finals over an equally one-man Knicks team. So, him winning a championship with the likes of Mo "This Guy Was an All-Star? Srsly?" Williams, Antawn "Wait, There's a Second Round?" Jamison and Shaquille "Twitter Gives Me Another Excuse To Not Practice Free Throws" O'Neal may have been recklessly optimistic.

All of this is predicated on the thought that "The King" is no longer comfortable with the accountability that fans and media demand in return for his claim to the throne. His words after Game 5 sound like those of a man who wants to let someone else carry the load for a while.

He knows where he can find somebody who knows how.

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