The day after the conclusion of the 2011 NBA Finals has people obsessing over two different things: 1). Lebron James not living up to his own high opinion of his skills and talents, and 2). Dirk and Dallas finally achieving a world championship. There are many points that can be and have been made on both of these aspects. I don’t want to reiterate those points, some things are said more than they necessarily need to be.
While I never bought into the “Lebron is the greatest player” hype, I did think that he had more class before the finals. He revealed something in his character that is really lacking, and that is class and maturity. I felt Scottie Pippen’s remarks a few weeks ago that he was better than Michael Jordan verged on blaspheme. I know I wasn’t alone. Many in and out of the sport got into the dialogue and spoke up that there is no comparison to MJ, at least not while a career is currently going. We can’t even say with full confidence that Kobe stands toe to toe with MJ. So how could Lebron possibly be better after 8 years in the pros and no championships?
On the flip side, more focus needs to be going to the Mavs. Not only are these guys full of class, maturity, heart, and perseverance, there are countless stories of inspiration within the overall story of their success that we could all spend the next month telling each other. There’s the amazing story behind Dirk who has played his entire career in Dallas, not leaving to go elsewhere to win a champ (a-la Lebron last year). There’s the facet about him staying at the arena and continuing to work on aspects of his game after he’s already played a full game (regular season, playoffs and finals) with his German basketball coach to improve on what he lacked during the game. Is there a player in basketball (or other sports for that matter) with that kind of dedication to excellence? There’s Jason Kidd who now has a championship after 17 years in the league. There’s Jason Terry who got a tattoo of the NBA championship trophy on his bicep and guaranteed a Finals championship well before he earned it. These are but the tip of the iceberg.
There are two underlying points I’d like to make briefly here concerning the Lebron side of the game, and the Mavs side of the game, and both have everything to do with you culture and lessons we can pass on to our children and young people. Let’s start with Lebron. Here’s a guy who excels at basketball so much that he gets drafted without ever having stepped on a court of higher pedigree than teenagers in a gymnasium. That by itself will jack up your ego. He leads a Cavalier team through 8 seasons almost single-handedly, once to the Finals. Knowing that the team’s success was largely due to his contributions, that also must have affected his ego. Then he makes a big deal about moving his place of work to a town with 2 other superstar players and guarantees endless championships will be the result. After a convincing win over Boston, then Chicago, the Mavs must have seemed to be another stop on the bus tour to victory. But it didn’t work out that way.
Ignore the whole thing with Dwayne Wade where the two of them mocked Dirk’s sickness on camera. Ignore the comment made post game last night that all his haters still had to wake up tomorrow and live their same old lives. Ignore that he bolted immediately after the game and didn’t stick around to congratulate the winning team (Wade did that to his credit). All of these things and the myriad of others I think have a lot more to do with the lack of leadership and guidance he’s had in life, which is more of a tragedy than and place of blame. His mother must have had a hard time raising a man-child on her own. Come on, the kid is 18 and 6 foot 5? That didn’t happen over night. I can only assume that trying to put restrictions or discipline in place during his teenage years must have been hellish to say the least. Who were his father figures? Who were the men that brought him direction, accountability, and taught him the realities of life? I’d argue that based on his behavior, they either didn’t have much of an impact on him or they didn’t exist.
This is why we’ll never really be able to compare Lebron to Jordan. Jordan’s father James Jordan was an integral part of MJ’s life, his success in sports, and the man he became. One can only assume that James taught Michael that if he wanted to win at the highest level, his dedication to being the best could only be met by him. That’s why when Michael talked about trying out for a team in college, he only refers to himself as the best competition for himself. Lebron might be convinced that he’s the greatest, but he hasn’t proved that because there isn’t a father in his life to really push him, one that he respects as a man and will not just massage his ego all the time. Want further proof? Who was Mike Tyson before Cuss D’Amato? He was a punk kid that was in and out of juvenile detention. After Cuss he was the youngest champion in boxing history. After Cuss he never could put the pieces together.
Instead of hating on Lebron, or criticizing him, which I admit to having both done a bit of and also find it easier to do, we should be hoping and praying that someone with the maturity and character to lead him to become the man and athlete he has the potential to be, will step forward into that place. Until then, the best Lebron will ever become is a talented child who doesn’t play well with champions.
The other side of the subject is what we can all gain from the Mavs, high school and younger sports coaches in particular. Rick Carlisle made key changes in his lineup to give his team the advantage against the Heat. The players went along with his starting lineup. This meant key guys who normally started didn’t. They were ok with it, because in the end the team was more important than the individual. On the other team, you couldn’t say the same thing. Any coach who has ever tried to convince a ragtag group of kids to play together instead of against each other, tried to get one player to share the ball or the responsibility, or tried to work on teamwork now has a poster-child for such an endeavor. Has there been in the last decade (with the possible exception of the Boston Celtics a few years ago) a better example of team work versus individuals with talent where team work won? It’s hard to do. But this is the real deal, and that’s the best story from last night’s win. Teams win championships, individuals go home.