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LeBron James decides to become the ultimate facilitator

Jul 9, 2010, 8:50 AM EDT

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. Lawyerbot - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    Do you truly believe that the Miami Heat are the now the biggest stage in the NBA with its rich basketball culture and the ghosts of stars past walking around the arena. Sure he is going to be on TV a lot (he was already in Cleveland) but he did not pick a big basketball hotbed where all eyes will be on him 24/7/365. Miami does not scream rabid NBA fan. He also chose to share a stage and be a supporting player on Wade’s team. Here is the easiest way to look at LeGone’s decision. Time is running down, Heat down by 1 — who takes the last shot?

  2. J-Rock - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:39 PM

    Yes… i do TRULY believe that he is on one of the biggest stages because he is the biggest story in the NBA. So if he went to New York, would he be talked about anymore (or enough to make a difference) than him playing in Miami. No, he will have all eyes on him 24/7/365 just as much in Miami. So if he went to New York, would he have been following Amare because he was already in New York? No. He wants to play with winners, proven players, and for an organization that is going to field him with better talent. As to who takes the last shot, that is easy. Who ever is open. That’s how you play the game of basketball. Wasn’t there some Paxon guy that took a series clinching shot against the Suns some years ago. Jordan was on that floor, but he didn’t get that ball, because the play worked out with Paxon as the open man.

  3. cygnus-x1 - Jul 9, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    yea we should all stop being upset at these guys and heap praise upon them for thier great sacrifices in taking huge paycuts,that’s right these great humanitarians sacrificed the chance to make 120 million and will have to survive on making “only” 75-80 million.how selfless of them to take that cut so that the team team can have enough money to sign 2 more players so they can have a “team”.can’t wait to hear the excuses and see who gets the blame when they don’t win any rings.even if means the lakers win again I will be rooting for anybody but the heat.

  4. Ramirez - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    Crash, Pippen left the Bulls because the Bulls didn’t want to pay up. The Bulls refused to pay Jordan, Pippen or Phil Jackson and blew up the team. You think all three of them left the Bulls the same year because Pippen lacked heart? The Bulls didn’t want to pay for them.

  5. Jared - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    Well, most people faced with making 120 million and 80 million would choose the 120 million. They’re leaving a lot of money on the table to play with certain players. No ones saying that they even deserve 80 million. Your beef is with atheletes in general and the money that they make. So what’s the real reason you won’t root for Miami? Cause you’re a Cleveland fan?

  6. Lawyerbot - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    NY Post: “Sources have said James was afraid of the bright lights of New York and didn’t want the intense scrutiny of the tabloids— with Mike D’Antoni alluding to James not being up for the challenge during Amar’e Stoudemire’s news conference.”
    Yahoo Sports: “The Championship of Me became the Championship of Flee, because LeBron James doesn’t believe he can be the centerpiece of a title team. He needed Dwyane Wade, a closer, far more than Wade needed him.”
    Rep. Anthony Weiner: “Ho hum. Cleveland? Miami? When Lebron decides he wants to play in a major league city, he can look us up,” Weiner said. “New York City has a combined 51 championship titles. Lebron has 0. No biggie.”
    Boxdon.com: “If this source is legit, then it appears that LBJ made his decision based off of fear. Now you know why he chose Miami, a city of 400,000 and middle of the pack attendance over Chicago/New York/LA. He chose the smallest city in the entire Lebron sweepstake.”
    RealGM: “LeBron James didn’t feel comfortable coming to play for the Knicks, a source told the New York Post. James was afraid of New York’s bright lights and the intense nature of the media, the source claims.”
    Greg Doyel, CBS sports: “What a fraud. What a scared little kid. Greatest player of all time? This guy? Nope. Not now. Not ever. Not even if LeBron James wins five rings in the next five years — which he should.”

  7. Lawyerbot - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    Because Cleveland and NY state income taxes, LeGone actually will net more $$ playing in Florida. He did not give up a dime (except for the extra year) to ride Wade’s coattails.

  8. Jared - Jul 9, 2010 at 3:46 PM

    Tabloid speculation? That’s what you’re giving me. OF COURSE the NY Post would say stuff like that. They’re bitter that they just opened up all that cap space and only got Stoudimire to write about for the next 5 years. If you want me to go to different news sites and papers to grab an opinion, then by all means, let me know. I can cite places that probably have my opinion in the same abundance. Why don’t i go over to PFT and ask Florio for his opinion. That’s my point…any paper not located in NY is calling for this guys head, and had he come to their town, they’d be singing his praise. It’s pathetic. No matter where he went, he was going to be called out for “not taking on a challenge” or “staying out of the bright lights”. What if he had stayed in little old Cleveland, would he still had been scared. You’d have some saying that while you would have Cleveland papers calling him loyal. I’m not a fan of Miami or Cleveland. This is an outside point of view, and it’s funny to see all these people upset with him because he didn’t choose their team.

  9. Jared - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:04 PM

    Ok man… how long are you going to call him LeGone? It’s really not that funny. So what about the taxes? Did you know that they have a high sales tax to make up for that? And he still has to pay a jock tax when he travels. So it’s not as big as a difference as it would lead on.

  10. Enough - Jul 9, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    Pssst…hey…CLEVELAND! STOP WHINNING! You had him for 7 years… let it go, he has the RIGHT to leave home. He was 18 when he started with Cleveland- he is now 25! He wants to try something else…STOP demonizing him. And yes… he’s going to kick yalls BUTTS when he come back wearing a Heat uniform! LOL GET OVER IT!

  11. jimmy - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    “Jordan didn’t join them, he beat them.”
    Very well said. 7 words that best describe what LBJ can never do.

  12. Lawyerbot - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:28 PM

    Jared wrote: “This is an outside point of view, and it’s funny to see all these people upset with him because he didn’t choose their team. ” Actually, I am not a fan of any of the teams in the process. I am a Bucks fan.
    Jared wrote: “Well, most people faced with making 120 million and 80 million would choose the 120 million.” As I stated above, he is actually netting more $$ playing in Florida. Of course, you argue that the sales tax makes up for that. According to Wikipedia, Florida sales tax is 6% (and 1% for Miami county bringing it to 7%), NY state and city sales tax is 8.875% (4% to state rest to NY city). The sales tax in Akron is 6.75%. So, I guess this argument of yours is like your other arguments.
    As for my citations, ESPN is also reporting in its Premium section that LeGone was afraid of New York. You also didn’t address the actual facts that show Miami is not the big stage of NY, Chicago or LA: “Now you know why he chose Miami, a city of 400,000 and middle of the pack attendance over Chicago/New York/LA. He chose the smallest city in the entire Lebron sweepstake.” Your only argument is that LeGone brings the stage with him. Fact is, he is walking onto Wade’s stage as a supporting player. And regardless, NBA fever in Miami simply cannot compare to it in NY or Chicago. Of course, you can argue that Florida’s “high sales taxes” also proves it is a bigger stage.
    I am happy to be dissuade by you if you have some actual facts that support any of your opinions. I have given you quotes by various commentators, actual tax facts, facts regarding the relevant sizes of the various markets, etc.
    Just to be sure this is clear. This is an outside point of view. Until yesterday and his classless display, I was a fan of LeGone and really wanted him to win a championship. But I think he has now proven he is chasing the legacy of Pippen, not Jordan. As I said above, so be it. It is his choice.

  13. Jared - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:39 PM

    Touche.
    You make good solid points and i see your point of view.

  14. Ben Gay - Jul 9, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    Well all I can say is James went to the correct name for a team. He will need alot of HEAT on that bum elbo of his as the next season goes on.

  15. pjmjfan - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:01 PM

    So these “great players” were great before joining MJ on the Bulls? Hmmmmm…..other than Rodman???? (and he’s a stretch to call great)

  16. Jabberwocky - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    James is doing what is very smart to join a Triumvirate. Chicago had its big three, true Jordan was a big three all by himself, but still. The Celtics have one a title with a big three, the Lakers have Kobe, Gasol, and whoever happens to show up that night. I think it is pretty clear that a wise player wants to win championships and who has more than Bill Russell? Bill was a great star but was he Apollo or was he Archimedes? I think Lebron has put himself in the position to be contending for a championship because it is teams that win championships not individual players. Even Jordan needed Paxson and Stevo to drop a few dimes or a couple titles might have slipped away. East/West : Celtics-Heat-Orlando/Lakers. It looks to me like really awesome rivalries for years to come.

  17. RL - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:27 PM

    Who’s gonna take the last shot? You have a double barreled shotgun! The other team will have a very hard time who to guard and double team because you have at least two options. Unlike with the Lakers where you know that it will always be Kobe.

  18. ZFAM14 - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:31 PM

    No one seems to realize that individuals don’t win championships, teams win championships. This whole Michael Jordan notion of his putting players on his back is crap. One guy may get the credit, but Scottie, Grant and later Rodman were part of the reason why Michael has six rings. Now if this “Big Three” can make the same noise as the “Big Three” in Boston, maybe they will get the rings they want. But is is got a given. Nobody is afraid of Miami. One more thing: When a team is tired of a player he discards him either by cutting or trades. What is the big deal surrounding a player wanting to get in a better situation for himself.

  19. tman1980 - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:36 PM

    People need to lighten up on LBJ. This kid came straight out of High School to the pros and had to learn the game and business at the same time. He made his own decision and time will tell us if it was prudent. The ironic thing is that the owner is not only acting childish, but he is showing the the pressure was on him and LBJ helped keep the pressure off. The fact the LBJ chose to walk away for less money speaks to the fact that maybe he was tired of carrying the owners load. We watch as 25yr make a grown manage decision that will affect his life for some time to come and we watch an owner who is suppose to be grown, act like a kid because LBJ acted liked a man.

  20. Tyrone - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:38 PM

    It’s funny to me when people say Lebron is not Michael Jordan..just by saying that, he’s being compared to Michael Jordan. He’s a great player whos CONTRACT ended. It’s called free agency and thats why they have contracts..so players can choose to go somewhere else. I’m a Lebron James fan..never watched the Cavs until he came along and probably won’t ever watch them again unless they are playing Miami. I’m also a D-wade fan. It’s amazing to me that I get to watch two of my favorite players on the same team. The criticisms sound funny to me coming from people who have never been and will never be in that situation. If I were Lebron James and had to choose between playing in south beach with a great friend and a great basketball player with a chance to win…or stay home in cleveland I think I would choose Miami. People forget the man is only 25 and have been living and working in Cleveland all his life.
    He has a right to go wherever he likes. He’s earned it. and after the statement by Dan Gilbert..I don’t blame him. That just shows that they love you as long as you do what they want you to do.

  21. ZFAM14 - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:43 PM

    I think we were heading in the same direction around the same time about individuals and teams. I defer to you; which is what that three will better learn to do. I am old enough to remember when Earl “The Pearl” Monroe came to the Knicks and totally controled his game and deferred to Clyde Frazier. Everybody said that it wasn’t going to work because they both need a ball. True champions make it work…and they did. It was the last Knicks championship.

  22. ZFAM14 - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:49 PM

    There’s no doubt that they became better because they played with Michael. LeBron made his guys better for the regular season, but couldn’t close the deal in the playoffs. Now he’s going somewhere where everyone will pull their own weight. At least Wade and Bosh. They still don’t know what kind of team they are going to have. There are no guarantees, at least on the East Coast.

  23. TexasMike - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:52 PM

    Larry,
    He wasn’t going to ask that kind of question because he was paid by Lebron’s manager Maverick Carter. This was nothing more than an infomercial. It’s a damn shame that Billy Mays died because he’d have been the perfect guy to headline that extravaganza!

  24. TexasMike - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:53 PM

    Larry,
    He wasn’t going to ask that kind of question because he was paid by Lebron’s manager Maverick Carter. This was nothing more than an infomercial. It’s a damn shame that Billy Mays died because he’d have been the perfect guy to headline that extravaganza!

  25. Disappointed in NY - Jul 9, 2010 at 6:56 PM

    Like many I was initially disappointed in James. I felt like he took the easy path to glory. Today, I’m feeling he was thinking bigger then basketball. He’s thinking about his family. Who wouldn’t want to live in a Mansion on Miami beach. Step outside of basketball… would you want your family in Penthouse in NY, Suburbs of Cleveland or beach front property in Miami. Good luck Lebron, smile as you stand beside Wade holding the trophy and remember your place as Role Player.

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