Lord Byron once said that “Adversity is the first path to truth.” I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment, although we must reiterate that he says “truth,” not “grace” or “humility” … simple, objective truth – which may reveal the best in some and the worst in others.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the defending NBA champions. As such, they have the biggest target on their back (something I established last June after they won the title). As a betting man, it will typically behoove you to take the field versus the defending champion in a given season, and the Cavaliers’ play over the past month is proving that sentiment to be correct.
The team finished the month of January with a loss against the lowly Dallas Mavericks, dropping the team to a record of 7-8 in 2017. To make matters worse, franchise savior LeBron James was widely criticized by former MVP and TNT analyst Charles Barkley for publicizing his issues with the front office’s efforts to improve the roster.
“Inappropriate. Whiny. All of the above,” Barkley said. “The Cleveland Cavaliers, they have given him everything he wanted. They have the highest payroll in NBA history. He wanted J.R. Smith last summer, they paid him. He wanted [Iman] Shumpert last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. He’s the best player in the world. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t wanna compete? He is an amazing player. They’re the defending champs.”
Never one to miss an opportunity to respond to criticism, James took the bait when he flared back Monday night after the Cavaliers loss:
“He’s a hater. What makes what he says credible? Because he’s on TV?”
Seeking to delineate the differences between their legacies, James continued by pointing out various controversies throughout Barkley’s career. It’s not the content of the criticism here that bothers me as a casual observer, it’s the fact that LeBron consistently feels the need to lower himself to the media’s level and respond every single time someone questions him.
But it’s not just Barkley and the media. Remember back in the 2016 NBA Finals when James took issue with Draymond Green calling him a “bitch”? He fired back, then, by saying he was a “man” and a “father of three.” Again…he had to respond.
My question here is why does LeBron feel the need to constantly re-assert himself? Surely the most gifted athlete in history is strong enough mentally to ignore criticism and trash talk. Or maybe it does cut him pretty deep anytime someone challenges him or refuses to bow down to “The King.”
Surely it can’t be the criticism. Laker great Kobe Bryant endured far more criticism over the course of his career and rarely, if ever, chose to respond directly to the media. LeBron, on the other hand, lacks the ability to ignore such detractors and turn the idiomatic cheek.
This guy has been glorified and pampered his entire life, believing that he is basketball’s great reckoning, “The Chosen One” to carry the standard since the departure of our GOAT, Michael Jordan. And while he has certainly carried the standard with aplomb – something I acknowledged recently and commended him for – it’s these constant back-and-forth’s and bickering with the media that make me question his All-Time status and ability to lead.
And to add to Barkley’s comments, I, too, wonder why it is never enough that LeBron’s teams consistently sign or trade for exactly what he wants. The Atlanta Hawks literally giftwrapped Kyle Korver for them earlier this year, but a knock-down shooter to space the floor is contrary to what he wants? They won the NBA championship last year with practically the same roster, but LeBron isn’t confident enough in his charges to get the job done again in 2017?
*As a side note, I would like to declare war on any team that helps the Cavaliers improve their roster. The goal here is to defeat the defending champion, not help them repeat. The Hawks already violated this principle and are hereby blacklisted to me for the next decade.*
My best guess for why LeBron is so often embroiled in verbal disputes and questions about his competency is that he, too, doubts his own ability. In his 14th season, James is averaging the fewest points per 36 minutes since 2007 to go along with a career-high in turnovers and a career-low percentage from the free-throw line. Add to this the fact that the Cavaliers seem to have gone in another direction when it comes to game-winning plays (See Kyrie Irving’s shots against the Warriors in game seven and on Christmas Day), and you can see that the seemingly immortal LeBron is, in fact, human and experiencing a decline just like everyone who came before him.
Father Time is still undefeated.
At this point, I would love nothing more than for the Cavaliers to continue to spiral and for LeBron to keep pointing fingers. His lack of personal accountability only serves to further discredit him as an All-Time NBA great, and the league will continue to thrive with or without James at the forefront of basketball action around the world. Personally, I think the NBA will be better off when the consensus best player in the world isn’t so mentally fragile and easily riled.
*I believe that Kevin Durant has already supplanted LeBron as such, given his newfound commitment to defense and James’ subsequent disdain for the non-offensive side of the court. But we’ll wait until the playoffs to consider this transition of power absolute. After all, my assertion last year that Stephen Curry was the best player in the world proved to be true until LeBron started trying again in the NBA Finals.*
For the time being, the Cavaliers have some internal issues that can’t be fixed by simply adding another piece. They need to address the players they already have before they can look to trade or sign someone else. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. LeBron James cares way too much about what other people think and say. But in his own words, “There’s a new sheriff in town…”
Yes, we know. His name is spelled K-Y-R-I-E.