The LeBron Rant

Basketball is all about sharing, about unselfishness, about legends like Bill Russell doing whatever it takes to win. But apparently it’s also about who has the bigger… um, contract.

You see, all we heard these past few days was whether LeBron and D-Wade could co-exist as “Alpha Males”, or that LBJ joining Wade in Miami is supposedly something a true “Alpha Male” (ostensibly referring to Kobe or MJ) would never do… It’s curious that this hyper-macho view of basketball first began to emerge less than two decades ago, though. Like a commenter said yesterday, the Michael Jordan era was so transformative that we may very well have have convinced ourselves that the MJ-Pippen formula (and the Alpha-Beta designations contained therein) is the only way to view the game. Heck, Bill Simmons even wrote a 700-page book that revises the entirety of NBA history to match that ultramasculine theory of basketball.

Yet in those same pages Simmons also extolled the virtues of “The Secret”, which is allegedly about sacrificing numbers, money, and individual glory for team success… Well, isn’t what LeBron did last night the living embodiment of The Secret, leaving millions on the table and turning himself into a hometown villain, all for the sake of winning? If Vince Lombardi was right and “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”, then LeBron made the only rational decision last night. But the dirty secret of commentators like Simmons is that winning by itself is not good enough — you apparently also have to win while simultaneously vanquishing the idea of another male rival sharing your spotlight, because god forbid that another Alpha could possibly question your hoops authority when you’re doing all that winning.

Oh, but I forgot, basketball is the ultimate team game, and it’s all about sacrificing stats and glory for championships, right?

I guess this LeBron situation provides the ultimate opportunity for people to put their money where their cliches have been all these years.

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About Neil Paine

I work for Sports-Reference.com. I've been a freelance writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and Basketball Prospectus.

Posted on July 9, 2010, in No Math Required, Offseason, Rants & Ramblings. Bookmark the permalink. 280 Comments.

  1. @250

    Who cares, it wasn’t the greatest individual playoff run either. It came down to other external factors (fortune too) which is what led to that title. Yes anyone can win a title when they play with LeBron and Cleveland did have a chance. I don’t think that’s the point you should get hung up on though.

    I don’t care about Cleveland, it matters zero percent to me that he back stabbed them. I would back stab (metaphorically) any player, coach, or GM if it got me titles and Finals MVPs and other playoff glory. He’ll probably collect more awards in the post-season than anyone else in this upcoming decade (maybe regular season too). That’s what killer instinct is to me. Over the long haul he made the right decision, he gets to save some of his energy for the playoffs and then he can just unload on teams. That’s another underrated advantage.

  2. The more and more you post, the more and more I think you’re Maverick Carter

  3. Late to the game here, but hopefully not TOO late.

    Let’s say all the criticism LeBron is receiving is accurate. He’s not an “alpha”. He’s afraid of failing. He doesn’t want to be “#1”. Etc, etc, etc.

    Why is that such a HUGE deal? Did he ever say he wanted those things? Did he ever proclaim himself any of that? Sure, in certain ways he did. But a lot of that was foisted and projected upon him.

    We are ascribing values to him that we WANT him to have but none that he ever actually demonstrated to possess. And now we want to fault him for not having them? We wanted pure, transcendent greatness from him and because he demonstrated a ridiculously high skill/talent level, we assumed that this was indicative of his character across the board and that his tenacity and machismo and leadership rivaled his basketball skills. Maybe they didn’t and maybe they never will. And that’s cool.

    How many of us want to be the absolute all-time greatest at our job? How many of us sacrifice happiness to fulfill all the virtues associated with our profession? I’ll use myself as an example. I am a teacher and a very passionate one at that. I believe firmly in the pursuit of education. But I’m also a man. A man with a fiance and a wedding to plan and plans for kids and plans for remaining sane. I choose not to work in the neediest schools with the most at risk kids, because I know I’m not cut out for it, not right now, and it would involve sacrifices I’m not willing to make right now. I applaud those teachers who take that on but, right now, that’s not me. Am I somehow guilty of not loving teaching enough? I suppose you could make that argument, but is that really fair?

    I recognize LeBron has some responsibility for this. He took on the “King” moniker and talked about bringing a championship to Cleveland. But, ultimately, we have to look ourselves in the mirror. If we are disappointed in LeBron, that has as much to do with our outsized expectations for him than it does his failure to fill them. Sure, some guys are those uber-alpha’s… Jordan, Kobe, probably Bird. But they’re anomalies, not the norm. We romance the past and say they were all like that back then, but we know that’s not the case. We wanted LeBron to be something he’s probably not, and probably never was, and probably never will be. I don’t think that was fair to ask and demand of him. There is a lot to criticize him for, but let’s not criticize him for not being Kobe or MJ. He’s LeBron, all the good and bad of it, and that’s that.

  4. boom-tho-is-a-movement

    I don’t think Kobe is more of an alpha than Lebron. The media has just portrayed him that way. Kobe tried to bail on the Lakers in 2007. Lebron is more productive in the clutch than Kobe. Where is the evidence that Kobe is an alpha and Lebron isn’t?

  5. 254.

    Where is the evidence that Lebron has won a championship as the main contributor?

  6. I don’t like when people compare our professions to those of an athlete. They’re really not comparable.

    Anyway, he has a tattoo of “The Chosen One” on his back. Kind of hard to argue he didn’t bring this status upon himself…

  7. @252

    Sorry but I would have simply done the same.

    @BSK

    He said he’s going to lead Miami to a title, his words. The season hasn’t started and he’s still the best passer and scorer on Miami’s team. His skills haven’t been lost overnight dude, in fact the most games he’s ever missed in a season is 7.

    Magic won MVPs distributing as well (not that he’ll be that passive either). I think you’re the one assigning misguided roles onto him. Wade is Mini-LeBron, he’s not even a better jumpshooter (a eFG% difference of about 4%) or FT shooter.

    You haven’t been around here much. Kobe’s not in LeBron’s league. You can look up the mountains of great blog posts Neil did.

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=6618

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=6618

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=6859

    Kobe was never as good comparing primes. And Kobe has more Win Shares in a single season than Wade. LeBron is just in his own league, rightfully so. He even has a higher playoff WS/48 than his regular season production, a rare trait.

    He took less money to start a dynasty. That’s why he left and I thought it was a genius move.

  8. 256-
    Even that was put upon him at an extremely young age. See here:http://www.obsessedwithsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Si-cover-lebron-james.jpeg

    And why can’t we compare our profession to theirs? The idea that they are so utterly different from us is simply false. Their profession is different, yes, but not so much so that it demands unwavering dedication and absolutely pure intentions.

  9. “Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing he did everything on his own. My only point is he won a title without a clear-cut #2 offensive option and his supporting cast overall was no more talented than what Lebron has had this season (not at a significant level, anyway).”

    Okay I understand you, but this goes back to the question about talent vs. ACTUAL production (or “value”). Could LeBron’s teammates be as talented or more talented than Duncan’s running-mates? Possibly. Could Bill Simmons be right in saying that Rasheed Wallace really was the most “talented player” ever? Maybe. But that doesn’t matter, because we can’t prove it either way. What we CAN show is what they did on the court, and the fact that LeBron’s teammates were, in the playoffs, not as nearly as productive as Duncan’s Spurs in 2003. The closest you’ll probably get is in 2007, and the Cavs were beat by a still MORE productive Spurs team in the Finals.

    Talented or not, LeBron wants to win now. And I don’t blame him for leaving Cleveland instead of staying to see if Mo Williams can finally prove in the playoffs that bricklaying is a separate activity from playing the game of basketball.

  10. Mo’s trying to get that patio built.

  11. You guy here the sigh of relief from Milwaukee all the way in Madison when they shipped him off.

  12. I think Wade/Miller/Haslem/James/Bosh actually makes for some pretty exciting playoff series next year. Would Haslem or Bosh pick up Dwight Howard? Bosh on Bynum and Haslem on Pau? Who’s bringing the interior shotblocking?

    I can see Miller having some Ray Allen-like performances in critical games … both good and bad. He’s going to be more open than he ever has before.

  13. Agreed, NYChris. They still need another 6-10 to 7-0 guy. (*cough JOEL ANTHONY, SON *cough). Gotta be able to match the Lakers and Celtics on size if you’re going to be competitive in a series with them.

  14. I’ve read that both Shaq and Ilgauskas are at least mildly interesting in following LeBron to Miami. Don’t necessarily think they’d be great fits (I’m picturing high tempo) but that would be yet another kick to the crotch of Cleveland.

  15. Huevonkiller-

    Was that really intended for me? I think you might have meant that for someone else.

  16. ESPN reports that Big Z is on board in Miami @ the vet’s minimum (1.4)

  17. “Okay I understand you, but this goes back to the question about talent vs. ACTUAL production (or “value”). Could LeBron’s teammates be as talented or more talented than Duncan’s running-mates? Possibly. Could Bill Simmons be right in saying that Rasheed Wallace really was the most “talented player” ever? Maybe. But that doesn’t matter, because we can’t prove it either way. What we CAN show is what they did on the court, and the fact that LeBron’s teammates were, in the playoffs, not as nearly as productive as Duncan’s Spurs in 2003. The closest you’ll probably get is in 2007, and the Cavs were beat by a still MORE productive Spurs team in the Finals.”

    The question we have to ask is WHY did the team’s talent drop off so significantly in the playoffs versus the regular season, is it not? Lebron’s teammates were more productive than ’03 Duncan’s during the regular season…so why the discontinuity?

  18. Because the intensity of basketball is steeply raised in the playoffs, and maybe the shorter rotations affected them. But basically, you need to elevate your game in the playoffs if you’re going to hang. Mo Williams and company just don’t seem to have that in them.

  19. “The question we have to ask is WHY did the team’s talent drop off so significantly in the playoffs versus the regular season, is it not? Lebron’s teammates were more productive than ’03 Duncan’s during the regular season…so why the discontinuity?”

    Perhaps because when they match-up with the Magic and Celtics of the world for a 7-game playoff series instead of beating up on lesser opponents during the regular season, they get exposed. It also doesn’t help that Mike Brown wasn’t exactly putting the best lineups out there that would give his team the best chance to win (basketballvalue.com sheds some insight on this one).

    Why do you think playoff production is so valuable in basketball? In the playoffs you have better defenses and smaller sample sizes. Players that can counter both effects will get your team farther than others.

  20. They also struggled vs the Bulls.

    And you’d have to compare them to those teams over the years, as well.

    And you have to look at Lebron’s production. Remember, Neil pointed out how large the STD was in his SPM over the 6 game series.

    I agree with your points, so don’t mistake what I’m saying. But there’s more than one answer to this. I don’t want to get into it, but I think Lebron shoulders some of the blame, even before that game 5 debacle.

  21. “Because the intensity of basketball is steeply raised in the playoffs, and maybe the shorter rotations affected them. But basically, you need to elevate your game in the playoffs if you’re going to hang. Mo Williams and company just don’t seem to have that in them.”

    The ability to elevate one’s game in the playoffs. This is a skill? Any statistical evidence for such a claim? This seems a lot like “clutch.”

  22. Are you pinning the Bulls on LeBron too? What don’t you “want to get into” ?

    You should look at WS/48 in the playoffs and post-season. You’ll be able to identify those that play above their regular levels. Usually most players have a dip in that stat. The great ones don’t though.

  23. *regular season and post-season

  24. “And you have to look at Lebron’s production. Remember, Neil pointed out how large the STD was in his SPM over the 6 game series.”

    That same post (which is based on a ridiculously small sample size btw) also concluded that if your teammates play like garbage, your squad isn’t beating Boston, or any other team for that matter, even with a more “consistent” series. So ultimately, you ARE as good as your team in a sense. As I’ve always said, it’s easy to look sooooooo good when your team wins in a team sport. Winning appeals to the passions, and not so much to reason — which is why I absoutely think LeBron winning a ring in Miami will quell the whole “he ‘cheated’ for his ring” in the history books.

    Over a much larger sample of his entire playoffs career, LeBron has always played well. Hopefully that will finally translate to rings alongside other great playoff performer in Wade.

  25. what’s the record for the longest blog? I’m starting to think this one is on the juice…

  26. “The ability to elevate one’s game in the playoffs. This is a skill? Any statistical evidence for such a claim? This seems a lot like “clutch.”

    I’m sure there are. But I’m going on 50 years of NBA players saying so. They might know what they’re talking about.

  27. “I’m sure there are. But I’m going on 50 years of NBA players saying so. They might know what they’re talking about.”

    Majority also say Kobe is the best player in the game. I guess that settles that, then.

  28. Good point. Personally, what active players say about the game and each other weighs heavily on my opinions, especially when stats back it up (check out Mo’s precipitous drop in FG% in the playoffs the past two years). They’re in the thick of it, they know what it takes.

    At the very least, when their opinions contradict my own, it causes me to investigate my opinions – rather than dismissing them because what they say doesn’t fit into the narrative I want to believe.

  29. Carefully, Middy. You sound frighteningly reasonable for a blog-commenter. You don’t want to get pwned or whatever it is that happens to the kids these days. Geek-served?

  30. I just want the NBA (they read this blog, right?) to cover up LeBron from the waist down if they are going to continue to allow him to take 3 steps, then a hop step with no traveling called. He ball handles like an Austrailian Rules Football Player, running—then a bounce here or there… it’s not basketball.

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