DAR Sports: The Legacy of LeBron James

By @TrueGodImmortal

Perhaps this article should have waited another week or two. However, regardless of what the outcome of the NBA Finals are, this man is a legend and already solidified as one of the greatest players of all time. He's never been my personal favorite player and while I don't necessarily share the same love as many of his fans do for him, the respect I have for him goes a long way. He's the best player today in basketball, with 6 straight NBA Finals appearances (7 overall), and a huge list of accolades that truly set him apart from so many. What I'd like to explore today is more so the legacy that Lebron has, and what it means to the game of basketball.

When looking at someone and their entire career, one has to start at the beginning, where it really came about. His story begins as the son of Gloria James, a single mother who worked hard to provide for her son. LeBron's humble beginnings and struggle would serve as a motivation for his determination and will as he progressed in life. His mother allowed him to move in for a while with the family of a youth football coach by the name of Frank Walker, who would serve as a mentor for Lebron and help introduce him to basketball when he was 9. It was this moment that led Bron to become what he is today. The starting point. As a player for the AAU with the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars, the Akron native showed promise and amazing ability. It was there that he would gain friendships with teammates, and along with his three friends Sian, Dru, and Willie, they would be dubbed the "Fab Four" that promised to attend high school together. In a bit of a controversial move, the four decided to attend a private majority white Catholic high school named St. Vincent-St. Mary, and from there, the journey begins.

As a freshman, Bron seemed to captivate, as he would help lead the team to a Division III state title, contributing 21 points and 6 rebounds a game in a 27-0 season. It would be his sophomore year that he truly stepped into his legacy, not just from a basketball standpoint, but also from a football standpoint. While Bron definitely had the state of Ohio in the palm of his hands as a sophomore player on the basketball team, he would be successful in playing football as a wide receiver, being named to the first time All State on the same year that he was selected as Ohio's Mr. Basketball and named to the All-USA First Team after leading his team to yet another state title. After his sophomore year, everything changed. With his abilities being lauded and his star power rising, his junior year would see him get featured in SLAM magazine and NBA scouts began to show up to his games dying to get a glimpse of the greatness that was talked about.

He would grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, becoming the first underclass High School player to accomplish this feat, and he only seemed to get better as a player in his junior year. This seemed to be the peak of his high school popularity as a player, and as a football player, he helped lead the team to the state semifinals, once again proving his prowess as a two-sport athlete. There were remarks that it could have been possible for Lebron to enter into the NFL in the future, based on his high school success. While I don't think he would have become an elite wide receiver in the NFL, you never really know. His athleticism and his gifted ability are probably the greatest we've ever seen in sports, and in high school, while his game was still growing, he shined beyond measure. After yet another year of being named All-USA First Team and Ohio's Mr. Basketball, LeBron would become the first junior in high school history to be named the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Lebron had hoped the NBA could make some changes to their requirements so that he could go straight from his junior year into the 2002 NBA Draft, but no such thing would happen.

With this, it seemed the plan became to bank off of LeBron in his senior year, because it was almost a foregone conclusion that he would opt out of going to college and playing in the NCAA. We knew he would go in the 2003 NBA Draft. So, with this knowledge, ESPN2 began showing some of the games of St. Vincent-St. Mary, as they went around the country to play nationally ranked teams and there were even some cable providers who decided to air the games on Pay Per View. Bron became the most talked about player in the world, dominating a basketball world that was currently recovering from a Lakers three peat dynasty. With the newfound fame and attention comes rewards, and Lebron would begin to receive some, much to the chagrin of the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

In essence, how could you really blame Lebron and his mother? This is a kid who came up from struggling and humble beginnings with a single mother, and now the world is at your feet offering you cars, free throwback jerseys, and more just for the chance of a picture or an autograph. Of course, the temptation to accept these gifts are going to be too much at times. I think it's another issue that we expect athletes and celebrities to not take advantage of the fame they've acquired, though their talents and abilities made all of this possible. After yet another successful year, with the gifts, along with another All-USA First Team selection, another year as Ohio's Mr. Basketball, and a second straight Gatorade National Player of the Year award, it was time for Lebron to show and prove in the big leagues. Lebron had done all he could in high school sports and now it was time for him to enter the 2003 NBA Draft. With all the attention on him, along with the Cleveland Cavaliers having the no. 1 pick, you were almost 100% certain that the Cavs would pick Lebron, keeping the hometown hero in Ohio. That was correct.

The Cavs selected Lebron with the first pick, and all the pressure seemed to be on. Could he turn the Cavs franchise around? Make them a winning team again? Would he flop in the big leagues? Or would he be up to the challenge? I think in his rookie year, Bron began to amaze with his gifts and abilities, but he wasn't quite ready for the leadership position he was seemingly placed in. Regardless, he took a struggling Cavs team and led them to a 35-47 record, which was much better than the prior season, and with 20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 5.9 APG, he would rack up more accolades, as he would be named Rookie of the Year. While his rookie season showed immense promise of what's to come, his 2nd season would see him get fully comfortable in his role, earning a slot on the All-NBA First Team, taking the Cavs to a winning record of 42-40, but still coming up short in making the playoffs. It was during this season that Lebron became an even bigger star, as his averages of 27.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 7.2 APG were amazing improvements from the year before. He was also named a NBA All Star for the first time.

The following season saw Bron named as an All Star once again, and this time he showed up ready to win, earning the NBA All Star Game MVP Award with 29 points. This year was slightly interesting, as the regular season MVP Award went to Steve Nash, but I'd honestly say you had a much better case for Lebron and Kobe that year (more so Kobe), but Lebron would finish 2nd in the MVP voting this season on averages of 31.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 6.6 APG, helping the Cavs get to their first playoffs since 1998. They would get beyond the Wizards in the first round, before taking a loss to the Detroit Pistons in the 2nd round. In the 2006-2007 season, something spectacular occurred. While Bron still was one of the best players in the game, his averages went down across the board and people accused him of not being focused. Truthfully, you could see that some of his focus had left, but it never seemed to stop the Cavs, as they earned 50 wins and a trip to the NBA Finals. Bron showed up big time in Game 5 of the Conference Finals with an amazing display that ended with him having 48 points, scoring 25 consecutive points and 29 of the last 30 points for Cleveland. However, the Cavs ran into a much more accomplished, focused, and all around better Spurs team and got swept in the Finals.

He would come back next season more aggressive, and would earn his first scoring title, averaging 30 points a game and leading the Cavs back to the playoffs. In the midst of this, he also garnered another All Star MVP Award, but despite winning the scoring title and making the playoffs, the Cavs faced an early elimination when they were sent home in the 2nd round by the Boston Celtics in a crazy 7 game series. After a devastating loss in the Finals, then an early elimination in the 2nd round, Bron began to work his way into the official title of the Best Player In The World. While some would say he earned that distinction around 2006-2007, I believe he would start to make a claim for that in the 2008-2009 season.

Lebron improved and enhanced his overall game, earning his first regular season MVP Award, leading the Cavs to a franchise 66-16 record, and was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team with his amazing defensive prowess through the season. The Lakers and Kobe seemed to hold it down for the Western Conference and at the time, that was the debate. Who's the best player today? Kobe? Lebron? The stage was being set for a Cavs vs Lakers Finals with Kobe vs Lebron being the headline, and as the Conference Finals were set, it seemed as if we could really have that. Unfortunately, the Cavs would lose in 6 games to the Orlando Magic, though Bron showed up and played his ass off in the series. The rest of his team didn't seem to push harder to achieve the goal of reaching the Finals again and while the season was a great one for Lebron as a player, his team once again seemed to fail him.

It was in the 2009-2010 season that you could begin to see things falling apart for the Cavs under the surface at least. The injuries started piling up, but Lebron carried that team as best he could, getting them once again to the best record in the league and to the playoffs, earning a 2nd straight MVP Award. Speculation began to pop up, as Bron would become a free agent at the end of the season. One would have assumed that if the Cavs went to the Finals and lost, perhaps Bron would have been inclined to come back. In a lot of people's minds, I think they saw the writing on the wall, especially after the Cavs lost in game 5 of the second round to the Celtics and Lebron was booed by the Ohio faithful. Combine that with the increasing frustration of not being able to win or get back to the Finals, and the pressure was on yet again. Would Lebron leave Cleveland? Of course we all know how this story went.

Lebron leaving for Miami seemingly tarnished his legacy a bit in a lot of fans' minds. It's understandable that one could think that, as the majority of the legendary players such as Jordan and Kobe, never left their teams to go see rings or championships (though Kobe definitely would have went to the Bulls at one point if given the opportunity and Jordan came back to the Wizards). Regardless, LeBron's legacy is steeped in "The Decision", as the infamous "I'm Taking My Talents To South Beach" line is forever etched in history. It seemed to be obvious where Bron was going once Wade stayed with Miamj and Bosh decided to go with the Heat as well. This dynamic trio set out to win championships and with such talented players like Wade and Bosh to assist him, it seemed as if Bron wouldn't have to carry all of the offensive load for his team. The Miami situation may have been a bit peculiar when it occurred, but looking back on it, it turned out for the better and was a definite smart move. The fallout from The Decision was probably not handled the best by Lebron and as a result, it seemed as if he became one of the more disliked athletes in the game. Fans would burn his jersey, Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavs, would release a disrespectful statement, and everyone in Cleveland hated him it seemed.

Was the hatred justified? Well, if you're a Cavs fan, sure, but the lasting effect of the boos from one of his final games in the arena at that time, coupled with the rumored tension between himself and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert makes it an easy decision and there was some resentment likely on Bron's part, which would play into how he handled it. He was criticized by so many, but in essence, you get into this league to win championships. How you achieve that goal is not defined by one common viewpoint. While the Magic Johnsons, the Michael Jordans, and even the Kobe Bryants had won multiple championships with one team, Lebron saw fit to go to a team with potential and with the right roster could be unstoppable. This isn't a bad thought process, and watching Bron embrace his villain role so to speak, while helping the Heat gain dominance was great for the game of basketball in some way. Lebron would change his number from 23 to 6 when coming to the Heat, a move that still is interesting.

In his first season with the Heat, Bron seemed to adjust well, and the Heat ended up making the Finals, before losing to the Mavericks. It seemed as if the same problems that haunted Bron the years prior showed up, but in a different manner, as Bron's performance in the Finals was absolutely horrible. The criticism and the laughter at Lebron started once again and the infamous press conference where the trio promised multiple championships became a running joke at that point. Lebron  heard the chatter and all that was said and seemingly responded as only he could: with victory. After working more on his post game with legendary Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon, Bron improved his game and finished his transformation into the Best Player In The World officially. By this point, there was no longer any debate and he made good on his promise to bring a championship to Miami, as the Heat would go on to win the 2012 NBA Finals in 5 games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Lebron racked up yet another regular season MVP Award. He would also win his first NBA Finals MVP Award.

After his first Finals win, some of the hate on Lebron started to fizzle, and going into the next season, the Best Player In The World would help lead the Heat to an astonishing 27 game winning streak, helping them secure a franchise record of 66-16 on the season. The dominance of the Heat in the East seemed to now just be getting started and as the playoffs neared, they had to be the favorites to win it all again. Lebron would win his 4th MVP Award, and lead the Heat back to the NBA Finals. The Finals represented retribution in some way to Lebron as the Heat took on the Spurs, the same team that swept Lebron and the Cavs years before. As the series went on, the Spurs took a 3-2 and seemed to be on their way to a victory in game 6, but Lebron and his 16 4th quarter points led them back into the game and Ray Allen provided a clutch shot. Following this, Bron had an and maxing game 7 to bring him a 2nd straight title. It would be a big middle finger to his critics to win his 2nd title and after all he had gone through, entering into the 10th year of his career and winning his 2nd title in his 4th NBA Finals appearance was special.

The following season saw the Heat continue their dominance, but come up short in the Finals in a rematch against the Spurs. The Spurs convincingly won in 5 games and at that point, rumors started to persist that Lebron was leaving and going back to Cleveland. Many would say that it would make no sense for him to go back to Cleveland, but after winning two titles and four consecutive appearances in the Finals, he felt as if perhaps he had done all he could with the Heat. Regardless, Lebron made a decision, with much less fanfare and publicity as his first Decision, and returned back home to Cleveland. Just a few seasons prior, Lebron was the most hated man in Cleveland. Now, here he was, as the Best Player In The World coming back home to try and bring a title to the franchise and the city. With some pieces moved around, it seemed as if the Cavs were well on their way to being a viable team and having Lebron back as the leader turned him from the villain who left a few seasons ago to the hometown hero who returns to deliver what he should have before and right the wrongs of the past.

The Cavs in his first season back seemed to struggle a bit before finally finding their rhythm. They would finish as the no. 2 team in the East and after defeating the no. 1 team Atlanta Hawks in the Conference Finals, the Cavs headed back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. Lebron showcased leadership throughout this season and somehow the fans favored the Cavs over the no. 1 team in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors in the Finals. The Warriors would defeat the Cavs in 6 games, yet Lebron would put on a performance for the ages, averaging 35.8 PPG, 13.3 RPG, and 8.8 APG in the series. What sticks out to me the most about his performance is that without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, Lebron still managed to take the series to 6 games just based off his leadership and play. That's beyond impressive. As a player, that might have been LeBron's finest hour, even in a losing effort.

This season saw the Cavs become the dominant force in the East, reinforcing Lebron as the best player in the world, despite others knocking on his door for that no. 1 spot. The NBA Finals start soon, and while we haven't yet figured out (as of this writing) who his opponent will be, the Cavs are certainly already there after convincing series victories over the Pistons, Hawks, and Raptors. Lebron has led the Cavs to now be the no. 1 team in the East and if he is to bring a title to Cleveland this year, it is well deserved. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but as a player, the legacy of LeBron James is solidified. Is he Michael Jordan? Is he Kobe Bryant? No, he's not. He's simply Lebron James. He stands alone as a one of a kind player and with that, his legacy will continue to live on.

He stands as one of the most gifted players we've ever seen, one of the most intriguing, and one of the best ever. Win or lose this year in the NBA Finals, his legacy will remain and we are likely to see whichever team he plays for in the East in the Finals for the next few years to come. He is the personification of dominance in this era.



Popular Posts