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LeBron James decides to become the ultimate facilitator

Jul 9, 2010, 8:50 AM EST

Thumbnail image for James_dunk.jpgScottie Pippen has six championship rings. He’s a seven time NBA All-Star. He was an NBA All-Star Game MVP in 1994, a 3-time NBA First-Team All-NBA selection, and an 8 time NBA All-Defensive team selection. He is considered one of the greatest players in NBA history and a legend in the truest sense for being the ultimate support player to the greatest of all time.

And today, his name is being tossed around as an insult.

When LeBron James elected to head to Miami to join Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to form a combination of talent rarely seen in the salary-cap age, the backlash was swift and brutal. As our own John Krolik laid out, James now faces a backlash, a change to his persona and his identity that seemed impossible three years ago. Those changes are the result of a decision to leave Cleveland, to deliver what can only be considered Brutus’ dagger to the heart of Ohio as he traipses off to South Beach.

But beyond the damage wreaked by what he didn’t do (re-sign), we have to look at the criticism he now faces for what he did do (take less money to play with his friends on an undeniable contender).

James’ decision brought about a rash of comparisons to, who else, Michel Jordan. The ghost that hangs over every great player in this league cast its shadow over LeBron tonight because Jordan would never defer to another superstar. He would never openly admit that he needed help. No, instead Jordan would rise up and take the team on his back, carrying them across the sky and into the sun, stealing its light to bring back and light his bedroom to read by. He would vanquish the Jabberwocky with his ballpoint pen that he signs his lucrative checks with and would never take a step out of the spotlight so he could share it with someone else.

Jordan. The crown that gives us scoliosis.

What James has done, outside of the Cleveland context and the ridiculousness of the television special, is agree to take a paycut so that he can contribute to a better team. To a team with talent so rarely combined that it’s difficult to find examples of comparable squads even in eras without the salary cap that’s currently giving the Heat organization a noose they’re trying to unwrap themselves from.

James is taking over a role that’s been suggested by better and worse writers. The Sports Guy himself commented that perhaps James was never meant to be “The Man” but instead the “uber-Pippen.” That he’s not wired that way. But does anyone doubt James’ ability to score? To take the ball to the hole in a close game and create points? Does anyone think he can’t come out and score 40 no matter who’s next to him?

But all of that is part of the same process everyone is going through. Taking the hamburger and dissecting it based on the pickles, the mayo, the burger, the bun. It’s not taking a look at how the burger looks together. Basketball isn’t a series of set moves one after another. It’s a movement. One, big, long movement in concert with the other players on the floor.

What’s a greater accomplishment, then? Forcing your game into some sort of pre-conceived notion of what you’re supposed to be (a high-usage jump shot machine), or adapting your game to make the best players in the world even better, and in return, feeding off that synergy to make your game better.

James is a natural passer. He always has been, and no one’s known what to make of it. Point guards pass. Centers pass out of the double. But a forward, with that size, with the vision of a point guard, the touch of a center and the speed of a wing, whipping passes flawlessly, it was something we hadn’t seen. We’ve grown accustomed to it, and we honestly haven’t seen its full potential. With Wade and Bosh catching his passes, maybe we’ll see more of it.

He’s a tremendous rebounder, able to out-soar the most athletic players in the league to capture a needed board. He draws fouls consistently. He chases down blocks, converting easy fastbreak opportunities into conversions for his team. He literally transforms easy opponent possessions into quality scoring plays for his team.

All of this without his jumpshot, the range, the ability to finish at the rim. James brings these auxiliary skills to a team that can take full advantage of them, without wasting them. He can be the kind of facilitator that is the difference for teams, without sacrificing defense, or offense, or anything. He can make the team play better basketball. What’s the importance of being an “alpha dog” in that scenario?

Wade certainly provides him said “alpha dog.” Wade has always held a more obsessive need to win, a more driving sense of the killshot. Wade is simply meaner. Of the three players in this new triumvirate, Wade is the most serious, the most obsessed, the most driven.

So maybe it’s true that James is surrendering his “alpha dog” status to Wade’s game. But marketing? Leadership? Playmaking? James is king of the roost in that regard. And now begins an era where the three can accomplish something never before seen in the NBA, a synergy and drive between the absolute best players in the NBA all on one team.

And if he walks away with the same kind of bounty that Scottie Pippen did at the end of the day, only with more a of a direct role, that’s not a bad comedown. People will say his legacy is tarnished by needing “help.” That his legend will be altered. If successful, he’ll simply have to console himself with multiple rings, the very thing most players would kill for.

Tonight was the beginning of one of the toughest periods in LeBron James’ life, as well as the most exciting and most lucrative. He’s going to become more of a facilitator. He’s going to become less of an alpha dog. And he’s going to become a better basketball player.

Somehow, it’s hard to see how James loses in this scenario.

  1. hnirobert - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    LBJ will average a triple double this season, 24ppg, 12apg, 11 rpg. Dwyane will average close to 33ppg as well as close to 10+ apg as well. This is going to be SICK.

  2. N - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:01 AM

    Lebron is no longer King James. He has shown he cannot be the main man so he is now renaming himself… “Queen James”!

  3. Larry Scott - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    Regarding the LBJ fiasco last night on ESPN: 2 additional questions that Mr. Gray should have asked:
    1. Are you excited about joining Chris Bosh and becoming a member of Dwayne’s supporting cast?
    2. Have you been searching for houses in Miami-WADE County?

  4. hnirobert - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:09 AM

    you’re trying to make drama out of nothing. Dwyane approached them and told them he needed them. he welcomed them last night to THEIR CITY. don’t hate because pat riley got the top three free agents… TO ACCEPT LESS MONEY THAN THEY WOULD’VE GOTTEN ANYWHERE ELSE
    hate your teams management for getting outdone

  5. Granville Waiters - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    Jordan didn’t join them, he beat them.

  6. Chris Fiorentino - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    Everybody is saying Michael Jordan would not have done this. Folks, I have some news for you…LeBron James is not Michael Jordan. Never has been. Never will be. He is a great player, with great stats. But he doesn’t have the killer instinct of Jordan or Bird or Magic. His quitting in the Boston series should have proved that to everyone, but apparently, it took this move to finally get it through to the “experts” heads.
    I’ll say it again…LEBRON JAMES IS NOT MICHAEL JORDAN AND WILL NEVER BE MICHAEL JORDAN. PERIOD.

  7. Ryan - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    Being a “facilitator” could’ve easily been done elsewhere. It doesn’t mean to not be the man. This is LeBron, the self-described King, taking the easy way out. As Barkley put it on NBA TV last night, it’s LeBron “piggybacking on another man’s team.” How dare he put on this farce of a show, this farce of a legacy to choose Miami and be second fiddle. What a coward. How can you see “The Decision” and hear the name “King James” and think “he’s a Pippen?”
    I think the picture of Wade and Bosh is South Beach earlier this week, asking, “Who’s missing?” says it all. They knew. They all knew. This is a big ruse, a big charade, and I, at least, fell for it. Pretty sure we all did. It’s a damn joke.

  8. Michel Jordan - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:18 AM

    “James’ decision brought about a rash of comparisons to, who else, Michel Jordan.”
    Who is Michel Jordan?

  9. N - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    Did anyone hear Lebron state that he thinks “custodians of the orginization are important to be to win championships”!?!? HA! Lebron = Biggest Joke Ever!

  10. hnirobert - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    agree with Chris.
    The root problem here is that LeBron has been called the King since he was a teenager. LeBron has everything physically to make him one of the greatest but he doesn’t have Michael and Kobe’s “killer instinct,” he’s more Magic Johnson than he is those two. I also believe that the difference between Kobe and Michael is huge, but this is not the place nor the time to start that discussion.

  11. fiveiron - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    Go Cavs.

  12. Bo - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    “Somehow, it’s hard to see how James loses in this scenario.”
    How about this: They don’t win championships. They’ll win a ton of games, yes, but can three guys really win it all against complete teams? LBJ loses huge if he leaves Cleveland — a team that has had a serious shot to win for the last four seasons and was only getting better — and doesn’t get his rings.
    Good riddance.

  13. Edu - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    I’m angry at Lebron because of the narcissistic and egomaniacal process, but after all its a monster we all created. And please, stop trying to make him someone he doesn’t want to be. He’s no Jordan, so what?

  14. Rudy - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:53 AM

    Comparing LeBJ to Pippen is insulting and disrespectful to Scottie. Pippen had heart something LeBJ knows nothing about.

  15. chili22 - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    Jordan never won until he got some other great players around him. Mo Williams is not a great player. And nobody wins in Cleveland. How can anyone possibly blame Lebron for wanting out?

  16. Jason - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:38 AM

    I hope he doesn’t win championships but in all likelihood he will. That’s the worst part about this. You want to think that someway there will be a balance to the way Lebron publicly embarrassed Cleveland and hung his fans there out to dry, but there won’t be. He will be great. The Heat will be great and they will win championships. Will history remember the fact that he wasn’t “the main man” or will they just look on his great soon to be greater resume? The bigger question (and the answer seems obvious) is whether or not Lebron cares about all that? It seems obvious that if all Lebron wants to do is win he put himself in a great position to do that. He will get his rings and not give second thought to what anyone thinks. He may not be the considered the greatest ever but are we projecting that desire on to him?

  17. Eric - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    Pippen refused to come into a game vs the Knicks because he couldn’t take the last shot in 1994. Yeah, great heart.

  18. Crash - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Scottie Pippen leave the Bulls? Where’s the loyalty in that? And please don’t say they were rebuilding. It’s so funny how just last week all you haters were hailing him as the greatest player and now he sucks. Freakin hilarious.

  19. Eric from St. Louis - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    I read this passage, and it puts what should be alot of peoples feelings to words.
    “James tried to convince Chris Bosh to come to Cleveland to play with him there … Bosh preferred the beaches of Miami and the cover of Dwayne Wade. And LeBron James, faced with the decision so big that it became The Decision on ESPN, follows Chris Bosh.”
    “You have to ask yourself if you could imagine Jordan or Magic or Bird or Kareem or Russell following Chris Bosh in hopes of glory.”
    – Joe Posnanski
    HAHAHA…Michael Jordan following a 2nd tier all star for glory? I laugh just thinking about it.

  20. Anonymous - Jul 9, 2010 at 12:14 PM

    Don’t compare LeBron to Magic. It’s true that at the beginning of his career Magic was content to play backup for Kareem but as Cap aged Magic took over the team and they built it in his image.
    Also, don’t say Magic didn’t have a killer instinct. He was the man for Showtime in every way. Maybe he didn’t always come out and score buckets full of points like Jordan/Kobe, but he was as competitive as anyone and desired to win over anything else.

  21. Lawyerbot - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:05 PM

    The King has been undressed. Real Kings take on challenges. LeGone did not take on the challenge on bringing the Cavs their first championship. He could not convince another star to come to the Cavs. That is not leadership. LeGone did not take on the challenge on playing on the biggest available stage — New York. He was scared of that stage. Kings are not afraid. (You may recall that Shaq, when he left Orlando, went to the biggest stage available). LeGone did not even go to the team with the best roster and convince another star to join him there. Why not Chicago? He was afraid of the shadow of MJ. Rather, he chose to follow, yes follow, his friends to Miami where D-Wade can teach LeGone how to win a championship. LeGone has proven he is not a King — rather, he is a follower. So be it.

  22. Kels - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:22 PM

    I am ashamed at how everyone is hating on Lebron for the decision he made. I support Lebron, I think it was a good move. I wonder if everyone would be so angry if he would have went with the Bulls. I dont think so, I think everyone is mad because undeniable, Miami got the 3 best free agents for this year. I cant believe the people of cleveland is so mad at him, he gave them seven years, and the owner did not give Lebron any help, if I was him I would have done the same thing! I dont understand, 24 hours ago he was the king now, he is wrong. And the owner you want to dog him out, talking about how he quit, but YOU was willing to give him $120 million, for a quitter.Wow!!! Dont hate the player, Hate the game!!!! Hate that you was not smart enough to get the 2 other best free agents available. And I gaurentee that Lebron WILL get a ring before the CAVS will.. and I aint even a Cavs or Heat fan!!!

  23. Lawyerbot - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    I don’t hate LeGone. I am not even a fan of any of the teams trying to get LeGone (I am a Bucks fan so I know something about pain). I just honestly believe that he has shown that he is really not a leader and his personality is to play second fiddle. I don’t doubt he has as much or more talent than anyone currently in the game but he has proven he does not have the same drive and ego (for better or worse) than some of the greats who preceded him in the game.

  24. J-Rock - Jul 9, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    So wait, he didn’t take on being on the biggest stage? Are you serious? Just because he didn’t go to New York or LA doesn’t mean he won’t be on a grand stage. Miami is going to be the biggest story on tv every night of every game they play. There’s a tad bit of pressure that will come with that. Then you say he’s going to Miami to win a championship. DING! DING! DING! That’s what he wants. A CHAMPIONSHIP! He’s not going to get that in Cleveland. Mo Williams and a 34 year old Antwan Jamison is the best he’s ever had, and they both got destroyed in the playoffs. Cleveland never surrounded him with another superstar. Talk about Jordan, he never won a championship until Pippen came along. If he doesn’t win a championship in the next 3 years with Miami, then this will be a huge failure. How is that not taking on a HUGE challenge. Follow Wade and Bosh? Lets not forget that they were ALL free agents and they ALL decided to go to the Heat to play together because that was a place that could make that happen. NO ONE WANTS TO GO TO CLEVELAND. LeBron saw that and went were he wanted to. WAHHHHH WAHHHHHH…LeBron didn’t go to my team!!! WAAHHHHHHH!

  25. Jmal2223 - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    your telling me that lebron and wade are going to be responsible for almost 100 points a game. yeah right

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