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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. Wade's World - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:18 PM

    When Shaq joined Miami he knew that he was going to be a Role player and he handled it with dignity. I remember him saying “This is Dwyane’s team”. Anyone hear Dwyane giving up the team to Lebron? It’s not going to happen. What Lebron decided last night was to win championships (and he will). But Dwyane will be enshrined as the man who never abandoned his team and won it all several times. You go Dwyane!

  2. HeHateMe - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:19 PM

    People need to stop the hate. This will go down as the best team of all time. Dynasty for the next 5 seasons. Enjoy you fools, this is a gift from the basketball gods.

  3. Jerome - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    I don’t think any reasonable person can blame James for wanting to play with great players. But considering the impact of James departure from the Cavs – it was in the way it was done that created the reactions of both the fans and managment of the Cavs.

  4. vinnie - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:35 PM

    REAL ENJOYMENT WATCHING THE BEST PALYERS ONE 1 TEAM . ARE YOU KIDDING ME ??? WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER TEAMS IN THE LEAGUE ??? NO BALANCE WHATSOEVER . LEBRON IS A EGOMANIAC THAT COULD NOT TOUGH IT OUT IN CLEVELAND .DAN GILBERT OF THE CAVS I APPLAUD YOU . YOU GAVE LEBRON EVERYTHING AND MORE AND THIS RAT STABBED YOU IN THE BACK AND THE FANS OF CLEVELAND .I SAY WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND LEBRON !!!!!!

  5. Chris - Jul 9, 2010 at 7:41 PM

    What was the upshot to stay in Cleveland? For him to become Barry Sanders? Be the best player on a team that never won a title? To ALWAYS know the supporting cast wasn’t coming? This is a guy who stepped right out of high school and into the starting lineup and was expected to save Cleveland from being the dregs of the NBA alongside the Clippers. Even Kobe didn’t step onto the court in LA and become “the Man.” Jordan didn’t even win it on his own until he got the other guys who could carry a team on their own. And who’s Barkley to talk? Not like he stayed with the 76ers his whole career!

  6. George - Jul 9, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    After hearing what the Cleveland coach said, and listening to all of the Cleveland fans whine, now reading all of this bad mouthing, I clearly understand why Cleveland is ranked as the most miserable place in America to live. Those people are obnoxious. No wonder that players don’t want to go there………..and Lebron is thrilled to get away. He is in a much better place.

  7. Gift from the bbal GODS - Jul 9, 2010 at 8:38 PM

    This is just the next generation of basketball. And there is nothing wrong with what they did. It’s the goal to stack a team and Riley behind it all is the best part. The Lakers will need to play their best basketball to hold on to the championship.

  8. Cleareye - Jul 9, 2010 at 8:58 PM

    Byron Scott now has the best job in the NBA. He is employed by an owner who will spend anything to beat Miami. Everyone should be careful of their free agents. Anyone could bolt now to create another super team. Cleveland is now very dangerous.

  9. virginia beach gal - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:19 PM

    I think LeBron James and his whole management team should be ashamed of the way they handled this whole “DECISION”. A call should have been made first of all to the Cavs to let them know he was not returning. He then should have publicly thanked all of his Cleveland fans for their support. The backlash would not have been nearly as bad. His management team needs an overhaul and he needs to learn some humility, after all, he is just a man. I was a fan but no longer.

  10. MaY - Jul 9, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    Good comments all…however, I pose a few questions…how many GREAT basketball players were there before MJ? Lots. How many played together on the same team? Lots. Pick you GREAT and tell me how many other players who are in or will end up in the Hall of Fame plyaed with them on Championship teams? Lots. Now, since MJ is the greatest player ever, why did he not win a Championship w/o Pippen or Phil? Why did Kobe lose with Shaq and also win with Shaq? Why did Russell win so many championships? Why are so many of his teammates in the HoF? Frankly, it realy does take teams, with some great, some really good all-star caliber players to win a championship, period. Was Russel a better indicidual basketball player than Chamberlain? Not according to Russel and the NBA record books. Russell played with more HoF players than anyone on one team ever, and he has more championships…maybe that’s no coiecedence. LeBron was free to make a choice and he made it…Let me see…Kareem plyed for more than 1 team, as did Chamberlain, MJ, Pippen, etc. Greatness is, I believe decided by your accomplishments over your career, not at age 25. For those who say if the Heat win 3 or 4 or 5 Championshiops it won’t mean anyting because they are now guaranteed to win…please revisit some basketball history and the comments of some great players that never won one. It matters! And its never guaranteed! You have to do it on the court. Is this threesome significantly better than MJ, Pippen and Rodman/Grant? How bout Magic, Kareem, and Worthy? How bout Bird, Parrish/Walton and McHale? How bout Shaq, Kobe & Horry (or whoever)? How bout KG, Paul and Ray? How bout Russell, Cousy and Nelson? Chamberlain, Greer, and Cunnignham? Pick your own trio, but understand, the competitive balance of the NBA is NOT destroyed! The Heat are NOT guaranteed anything! Much less a Championship! They still have to earn it on the court against other great players on all the other teams…some teams will always have more top-notch talent that others and the best team will win. MJ didn’t win championships because he had the worst team, he won because he had the best team, period. If he could have done it with the worst team (of the two playing in the championship), he would have won a championship w/o the aforementioned players and so would Russell or Kobe or any other player anyone thinks is a GREAT player. Guess what…no player has won a championship w/o having a great team, period! LeBron may not be considered the greatest player ever, but is Kobe? Shaq? Kareem? Magic? Bird? Perhaps, just perhaps, MJ is considered the greatest player by a lot of people because, individually, his skill set and flare for the dramatic earned him that title over the course of his entire career. Would you still consider him the greatest after his first 7 years? He accomplished quite a bit during that time, and never reached the finals or won an MVP! Let’s wait and see how this NEW thing in Miami plays out and then judge what they ultimately do before we proclaim that LeBron is Wade’s flunbky side-kick just yet or that LeBron can never be considered the best basektball player because he chose to play with his friends who are also great ball palyers. Great ball players choose to play together all over the NBA, now and in the past. They have more freedom of choice now, but does that truly make less great basketball players? Is Kobe better than MJ because he stayed with one team? Is he less great than Magic because he won 3 rings with Shaq? Just food for thought.

  11. luffy - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:04 PM

    This move just shows that LBJ wants a ring badly and at the same time doesn’t believe and himself and the Cavs management… Understand both sides, just hope this is the right move for Baby James, being w/King Dwyane and Queen Chris…
    Chicago – Rose, Korver, Deng, Boozer, Noah, Pargo, Gibson, Miller
    2011 East Finals, Chicago vs. Boston, Boston wins in 7 games…
    2011 Finals, LA vs. Boston, LA wins in 6 games…
    2012 East Fianls, Chicago vs. Orlando/Miami, Chicago in 7 games…
    2012 Finals, LA vs. Chicago, LA wins in 7 games…
    2013 East Finals, Chicago/Orlando vs. Miami, Miami in 6 games…
    2013 Finals, OKC vs. Miami, ?????????…..

  12. MaY - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:05 PM

    Good comments all…however, I pose a few questions…how many GREAT basketball players were there before MJ? Lots. How many played together on the same team? Lots. Pick you GREAT and tell me how many other players who are in or will end up in the Hall of Fame plyaed with them on Championship teams? Lots. Now, since MJ is the greatest player ever, why did he not win a Championship w/o Pippen or Phil? Why did Kobe lose with Shaq and also win with Shaq? Why did Russell win so many championships? Why are so many of his teammates in the HoF? Frankly, it realy does take teams, with some great, some really good all-star caliber players to win a championship, period. Was Russel a better indicidual basketball player than Chamberlain? Not according to Russel and the NBA record books. Russell played with more HoF players than anyone on one team ever, and he has more championships…maybe that’s no coiecedence. LeBron was free to make a choice and he made it…Let me see…Kareem plyed for more than 1 team, as did Chamberlain, MJ, Pippen, etc. Greatness is, I believe decided by your accomplishments over your career, not at age 25. For those who say if the Heat win 3 or 4 or 5 Championshiops it won’t mean anyting because they are now guaranteed to win…please revisit some basketball history and the comments of some great players that never won one. It matters! And its never guaranteed! You have to do it on the court. Is this threesome significantly better than MJ, Pippen and Rodman/Grant? How bout Magic, Kareem, and Worthy? How bout Bird, Parrish/Walton and McHale? How bout Shaq, Kobe & Horry (or whoever)? How bout KG, Paul and Ray? How bout Russell, Cousy and Nelson? Chamberlain, Greer, and Cunnignham? Pick your own trio, but understand, the competitive balance of the NBA is NOT destroyed! The Heat are NOT guaranteed anything! Much less a Championship! They still have to earn it on the court against other great players on all the other teams…some teams will always have more top-notch talent that others and the best team will win. MJ didn’t win championships because he had the worst team, he won because he had the best team, period. If he could have done it with the worst team (of the two playing in the championship), he would have won a championship w/o the aforementioned players and so would Russell or Kobe or any other player anyone thinks is a GREAT player. Guess what…no player has won a championship w/o having a great team, period! LeBron may not be considered the greatest player ever, but is Kobe? Shaq? Kareem? Magic? Bird? Perhaps, just perhaps, MJ is considered the greatest player by a lot of people because, individually, his skill set and flare for the dramatic earned him that title over the course of his entire career. Would you still consider him the greatest after his first 7 years? He accomplished quite a bit during that time, and never reached the finals or won an MVP! Let’s wait and see how this NEW thing in Miami plays out and then judge what they ultimately do before we proclaim that LeBron is Wade’s flunbky side-kick just yet or that LeBron can never be considered the best basektball player because he chose to play with his friends who are also great ball palyers. Great ball players choose to play together all over the NBA, now and in the past. They have more freedom of choice now, but does that truly make less great basketball players? Is Kobe better than MJ because he stayed with one team? Is he less great than Magic because he won 3 rings with Shaq? Just food for thought.

  13. MaY - Jul 9, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    On previous post…please pardon the poor spelling…my mind was working clear, but my hands were not steady, just quick! :~)

  14. Bob D. - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:25 PM

    No superstar has won a basketball championship by himself, including Jordan. The writer continually mentions Pippen, yet makes such a ridulous statement. There have been superstars that, despite being some of the best ever, either never won a championship or won one late in their career when they were no longer the ‘player’. Charles Barkley and Oscar Robertson immediately come to mind. Sometimes even two great players can’t get it done; Karl Malone and John Stockton.
    I believe many NBA fans view this new triumvirate of super-talent the same way they would a hand-picked group of the very best playground ballplayers going against those not so blessed. The Lakers are much despised outside of LA for this very reason. Sort of a stacked deck; definitely not as competitive if otherwise. Then again, many Americans have no real sense of competition going hand-in-hand with sportsmanship. The appalling blogs, comments etc. that they compose are hateful and simply stupid.
    As a bball fan I will be behind teams like the Suns, Jazz, Wizards, and now Cleveland. One victory over the Heat or Lakers is much sweeter than anything those two superpowers might do. HEY, maybe we should expect the Heat to win every game. After all, they are loaded (and full of it).

  15. Bob D. - Jul 9, 2010 at 11:41 PM

    MaY – AyE to what you Say. Good stuff.

  16. #1bullsfan - Jul 10, 2010 at 3:23 AM

    Not to mention GM Gilbert didn’t…not wouldn’t…send D-West packing. Lebron stated he went to South Beach because it’s all about family. Read between the lines Cleveland. There’s truth to the rumor regarding Lebron’s mother and Delonte West. Shame on you Dan Gilbert!

  17. Norbert R - Jul 10, 2010 at 3:57 AM

    The fact is that Miami questionably has the best three player combination in the universe and it’s possible that they could or should win a championship or for that matter many championships; but there’re no guarranties. Case in point; for many years the US Dream Teams had approximately six or seven of the worlds greatest players with a pretty good supporting cast and couldn’t win a international gold medal. Now imagine this and it’s going to take a big imagination, the Celtics winning the East…lol; obviously you guessed that I’m a Celtic fan. But remember them years the Rockets, Villanova, the Marlins, US Hockey Team, Casias Clay, etc. all won championships when they didn’t have a chance based on all us experts? Then there are injuries.
    Howard Cosell: “I got to tell it how it isss”.

  18. terry - Jul 10, 2010 at 7:22 AM

    Of the 12 players on the Bulls team in 1998 every one of them – with the exception of MJ – and EVERY coach came to Chicago because of Jerry Krause.
    On the plane back from Utah after winning #6 in 1998 MJ told Krause he was through but asked him to keep it quiet. Krause said he would and was good to his word even though MJ kept it a secret to give the players’ association more leverage in the strike that started not long after that and lasted into the next season – AFTER the new contract was signed MJ made the announcement.
    PJ – he made no secret of the fact that he was through – remember a few days after the parade when he got on his brand new motorcycle and took off?
    So that leaves Pippen. Pippen has made no secret of the fact that he is sick of Krause. Pippen also wants a super contract. Krause knows that the team will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. Krause knows that Pippen is damaged goods – remember his back trouble among other things – and is NOT worth that contract. Rebuilding around Pippen makes no sense at all.
    So what does he do? He does a max contract sign and trade for Pippen and trades him. Did Pippen ever win another? No. And don’t forget that Krause engineered trades for some of the others such as Longley and Kerr.
    Because of the farcical spectacle that EVERYONE made of ‘the decision’ I have lost some respect for James, but I am afraid that this could turn out to be quite a move because I think that James realizes that he is NOT the MAN. Wade is. Remember that between them there are 21 seasons and ONE ring – Wade’s. He won it because he took over the series in 2006 when the Mavs were whipping butt on the Heat. Sam Smith made the point not long ago that Wade didn’t want to play WITH James, he wanted to BEAT James. James’ coming to Wade’s neighborhood to me shows that he realizes that Wade is alpha-dog here.

  19. Sniper rifle - Jul 10, 2010 at 7:33 AM

    Funny you use the double-barrel shotgun analogy…it has poor accuracy.

  20. Derrick - Jul 10, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    When they talk about lower tax rate. They are talking about local and state personal income tax not sales tax. Florida has no state income tax.

  21. Tony - Jul 10, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Who takes the last shot? You now have 3 options, dont forget Bosh! Teams can choose there death!

  22. Keith - Jul 10, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    I hope when Miami plays in Cleveland that LeBron is booed big time and is harrassed by the fans. Serves the jerk right.

  23. Mal - Jul 10, 2010 at 11:18 AM

    Being from Chicago, I cant stand the way some people are misrepresenting the Jordan era Bulls. Let’s get the facts straight. Jordan was the ONLY star on the team for many years. His true greatness enabled his teammates to DEVELOP into high caliber support players and a great wingman in Scottie Pippen. That means Jordan made everyone around him better and into champions. Lebron simply didnt have the heart, drive, patience, or ability to do the same. The Bulls grew together as a team. Lebron is indeed taking the easy way out. Queen Lebron’s ego took an hour to announce he was going to play second fiddle to D-Wade. That’s what I dont respect about the guy. I didn’t think in the end he would fit in Chicago, but I would’ve respected him to go to a team a strap in on his back like any other real superstar has done. Those three stooges in Miami planned this move years ago, and that is the telling of all of their abilities. Well, at least Wade had one ring beforehand. Those other two clowns are masking the fact they simply are not champions at heart.

  24. Mal - Jul 10, 2010 at 11:35 AM

    One more point to defend Pippen. Yes we was a jerk for one moment and he looked bad for refusing to play ONCE. I’m sure we in chicago can overlook that because he made amends and played hard. afterwards. Everyone can make one mistake, luckily we still won that game haha. Pippen was instrumental in the next three championships we got afterward so we can for sure overlook his one mistake. He didnt just leave town and give up. I’m more upset D-wade didnt come here than the Queen. That MJ statue scared Lebron off.

  25. MJ played all 5 positions at once - Jul 10, 2010 at 2:59 PM

    So Jordans greatness made Rodman a defensive force and a rebound machine??? I don’t think so buddy. Rodman was a stud. I can see him making Pippen better, but not Rodman, or even Kerr. Kerr was a lights out shooter. Jordan could not do it alone. He had help. He had the best “support” players in the game.
    Lebron will make all three players better. Period. Lebron gets to be the setup man. Offence will run through him and he will decide what he wants to do. Make no mistake, this is his team and he is the engine that will drive this machine.

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