Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Lebron James: The Making of an MVP" by Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. "
Bill Cosby, Comedian

King James. Bron bron. The Decision.

It's been a pretty wild couple weeks for the King, which makes it a perfect time for this review. Months ago, I was watching Lebron's terrific documentary "More than a Game (2008)" and was so captivated by the story, and Lebron's ability to get great guys around him in High School, and to push them to greatness, I ordered the book.

The first thing you have to know about Lebron, and how he compares to guys like Wilt, Larry Bird, and Michael, is that LBJ really wants you to like him. 

LeBron didn't have a relationship with his father. His father left young LeBron and his mother Gloria early on. It's because of her strength and devotion that LeBron is a Superstar today.

I know, I know. It's practically a cliché, but I have to ask: Is it an asset or a weakness to want to please other people? Lebron wants his teammates to love him; he wants his city to love him; he wants his country to love him---LBJ's even taking Mandarin classes so the Chinese will love him too! A lot of kids grow up trying to impress their parents, their teachers, impress the cool kids, impress girls, impress potential bosses. In that regard, Lebron is no different, but his is a story, strangely, of world beating success and (at least, at the time this book was published) international adulation. It doesn't exactly lend itself to existential reflection, the way Bill Cosby intended (though Dr. Huxtable's words are undeniably poignant).

At any rate, that's how it happened. When LeBron was a kid, his mom would move them around all the time, so he'd been in 10 different schools by the time he was 8 years old. Very early on, his classmates described him as this "spongy guy that wanted to be accepted." He tried to be likable and make friends as best he could, but he never knew when he'd have to pick up his things and say goodbye again. 

Instead of keeping up the unsustainable pace, his mother decided he should stay with a close family, the Walkers, while she worked. It turned out to be the best thing for Lebron. This is where he learned his incredible discipline, and finally got some structure in his young life. LeBron, despite being a freakish athlete (his great physique and court vision is partly due to his playing both football and basketball at the same time in high school) he was a great student too. And his teachers, by and large, loved him. So far so good on the LBJ love train.

Fun Tidbit: By the way, it also helps that LeBron was born on December 30th. According to Malcolm Gladwell, when it comes to amateur athletics, size ( more specifically, the timing of your birthday) matters.

The Walkers instilled the discipline and self respect, that this kid would not just be a jock, but an all-around man of principle ( I can hear the Cleveland fans grinding their teeth already). It was critical that LeBron saw people with dignified lives around him, not just a world full of celebrities on TV and dope dealers on the street. Lebron learned that it was a good thing to be a good man, a hard worker and a  contributor to society.

So Lebron and his best friends, ever since the move to the Walkers, started hanging out all the time. No matter what they did, they were together. Lebron was starting to get his roots, and get the family he never had. Basketball was just an excuse to be with them.

As Bron took his blossoming game (and frame) to High School, his friends were right there beside him.
And they quickly became the best team in the country. By grade 11, his coach figured he's never see the inside of a college gym: this kid... was ready for the NBA.

When he finally suited up for Clevelend in 2003, Lebron took the basketball part in stride. It was everything else that just didn't sit right. The Cleveland roster was a joke, with league couchsurfers like Darius Miles and Ricky Davis. Then coach Paul Silas made it his number one priority that these bad players did not taint James with their selfish attitudes. Soon, they were gone. Silas was getting great players on the proverbial bus, and kicking bad ones off.

Over and Over, coaches and teammates say Lebron has the right attitude for the game. Win with a pass, win with a shot, win with a steal, whatever it takes, Lebron will do it. Oh yeah, and if he hasn't got it in his game, he'll add it in the Summer. Whatever it takes. Even if it means giving up the crown.

The Decision

After all those highlights in the Cleveland uniform, and all the great moments, the King decided to change his address. 

Maybe it was the clash, between the joy he felt in High School, and the pressure he felt being the go-to guy on the Cavs, that pushed him to sign with the Miami Heat. He just wanted to be part of a great group of guys again. Lebron, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, fellow draft classmen, as well as fellow Team USA Gold Medalists, will totally dominate the Eastern Conference starting in November. For a league and a culture that's constantly being accused of being egotistical and selfish, this is not a one man show. The Miami Heat will… actually…be a great team. Just like Old times in St. Vincent St. Mary High.

Lebron could very well win a Championship (or 8) in Miami, but it's almost impossible that Bill Cosby's words will be proven wrong here. As LBJ moves towards the ultimate prize on what will likely become the most despised, feared team in the NBA (remember the Super Villian Alien Team from the movie Space Jam?) , it appears he'll finally have to deal with his ultimate fear: being hated by millions.

It's about priorities. Somewhere along the line, LBJ's combination of incredible physical talent, and selfless team play, Media charisma and sly off-court business moves, turned against him. His two goals are in direct competition now. I really believe he's made the right choice. Rather be hated by millions of total strangers than have no rings.

Or maybe he's just sacrificing the 2010 love for the Hall of Fame love.

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