By MARK F. GRAY
In the latest chapter in the book of King James today’s verse reads: “All the kings boys and all the kings men couldn’t get him back to the NBA Finals again”.
LeBron James has been given everything an athlete could want since he was anointed as the future of the NBA by Sports Illuustrated when he was a 15 AAU phenom in Akron. He put $90 million into his bank account from Nike before playing a minute as a pro and was given the keys to his own franchise before he could legally drink. Coaches, teammates, and executives have learned to bow in the presence of “The King” for fear that he would leave the majesty of Cleveland taking with him the faint hopes for a world championship.
Despite his entitlement, James has yet to deliver a championship. In fact the Cleveland Cavaliers are regressing in their quest for a title. Consider that it takes 16 post season victories to win an NBA championship and the Cavs have seen their post season win total drop from 12 to 6 since they went to the Finals in 2008. There are those who would argue that the team is making steady progress with back to back 60 win seasons. However, there are no championship banners raised for regular season dominance thus LeBron and the Cavs have grossly underachieved.
The problems with the Cavs don’t totally rest on the shoulders King James. There is an organizational issue that faces them much like the dilemma that faces the PGA Tour when Tiger Woods isn’t playing or in contention. Both organizations lose their relevance when the two ambassadors of the swoosh aren’t performing at a high level. While the PGA still hopes for a Tiger rebound this season, the NBA’s hope for the “Kobe vs. LeBron” finals have been thwarted for another year.
Cleveland’s biggest problem is that LeBron’s impact off the court is so large they have to capitulate to what he wants on it. The value of the franchise has doubled since he was drafted and there has been an economic revitalization downtown that has proprietors so nervous about his departure that many are preparing to go bankrupt if he leaves.
Those who say the Cavs don’t have a good enough supporting cast surrounding King James to win a title must realize he has to carry much of that blame. The roster is comprised of his boys who are great at dancing on the sidelines but not playing at a championship level in the playoffs. The $100 million payroll is better suited to audition for America’s Next Dance Crew. Perhaps Danny Ferry should hire Randy Jackson as his consultant because the Jabawokees couldn’t play any worse than Mo Williams has for the second straight year in post season.
Ultimately, coach Mike Brown will take the fall because James probably won’t sign an extension if he returns since they haven’t been on the same accord offensively for the last three years. James has all the leverage and holds all the cards. But leaving Cleveland won’t guarantee King James a championship until he proves he can play outside his comfort zone.
King James needs ballers and not buddies by his side in crunch time if he’s ever going to win it all. He also needs a veteran coach whose credibility is larger than the aura of LeBron and may need to bruise his ego sometimes in order for him to raise the play of those around him to a championship level. Championship teams have often lived in contentious locker rooms. Shaq and Kobe had their issues in Los Angeles but the Lakers won three titles in four years with Phil Jackson keeping them on edge.
The King also has to be honest with himself now. Is it more important to be an NBA champion or a global icon? Michael Jordan proved it could work hand in hand but he was driven to be a champion first and that’s what he is remembered most for. A change of address offers no guarantees until James zeal for a championship replaces his penchant for showmanship.