Another Hero's Journey

It was subversive enough for LeBron James not to become The Next Jordan. The story he's writing now is even more so.
Share |

A decade after Michael Jordan’s retirement, it remains difficult to separate the man from the myth. Every basketball fan can recite his story by rote: a young man from humble beginnings, once cut from his high school team (or not), becomes the best in the world; an implacable foe (the Bad Boy Pistons) stands in his way. To pass his final test, he learns from a wise mentor (Phil Jackson) who imparts some valuable life lessons (the Triangle Offense, maybe a few books). Our hero reaches the top, but unseen forces drag him into exile (baseball) before a triumphant return. It’s Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”, the archetypal story that the original Star Wars trilogy was based on, condensed into a 60-second commercial.

Ever since, the basketball industry has scoured the Earth for “the next Jordan,” some other young lead to cast in this story. The entire AAU basketball infrastructure, where almost every American player over the last 20 years has learned the game, was created by shoe companies hoping to identify the next great pitchman as early as possible. Some players invited the comparisons, others shunned them. Either way, they were inevitable: there was a model that worked fabulously well, on the court and on earning statements. In terms of narrative, the NBA was stuck in Jordan’s shadow, until LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach.

***

LeBron, who came into the league a year after Jordan’s retirement, was born to the throne, or more literally born with a combination of body and talent that had never been seen before. He had Jordan’s athleticism and Karl Malone’s size; at 16, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. At 18, he was drafted No. 1 overall by his hometown team, and expected to end a championship drought that stretched back to 1964.

Jordan won his first title in his seventh year in the NBA, automatically marking the timeline against which LeBron would be judged, obvious other differences aside. The Bulls drafted Pippen, Horace Grant and Toni Kukoc; the Cavs drafted Luke Jackson, Shannon Brown and JJ Hickson. When the Bulls needed to improve their roster during the Jordan Dynasty, they traded for Dennis Rodman and signed Ron Harper; the Cavs landed Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall. LeBron had his fair share of playoff heroics and disappointments in Cleveland, but never a season in which the Cavs rightly should have won the title. The other four starters on the 2007 NBA Finals team were Hughes, Eric Snow, Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Basketball is not an individual sport, but LeBron was still judged by his team’s playoff failures.

When James reached unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2010, there were several paths in front of him. He could try to finish the journey in Cleveland, chase Jordan’s legacy in Chicago or start a dynasty of his own in New York. Few expected him to head to Miami, since the Heat already had a perimeter superstar with a championship pedigree. As Obi-Wan Kenobi told Darth Vader in Episode III: “You were the Chosen One! You were supposed to defeat [Dwyane Wade]. Not join him!” LeBron, who has “The Chosen One” tattooed on his back, was rejecting a search that had consumed basketball for a generation. What Would Jordan Have Done? Not this. Here, LeBron’s story jumped the track. Here is where it really gets interesting.

***

When Kobe Bryant hit free agency in 2004, his first priority was establishing that the Lakers were “his team.” His team had already won three titles, but Shaq had been the Finals MVP all three times. O’Neal was already 32 years old, but there was no reason to break apart a team that had either won the championship or lost to the champions in each of the last seven seasons. Nevertheless, Jordan never had a 7’1 300 Goliath on his team, and Kobe wouldn’t be seen as his equal until he proved he could do it on his own. The Lakers lucked into Pau Gasol, but Kobe’s career looked headed for a hubris-powered tragic conclusion in 2007, when he was losing in the first round, ice-grilling Smush Parker and demanding a trade.

It’s hard to imagine LeBron putting himself in the same position. There’s plenty to argue about when it comes to LeBron, Kobe and Jordan, but not who was the better teammate. At heart, LeBron is a passer, not a scorer. James has averaged 7 assists a game over the course of his career, one more than Jordan and two more than Kobe. Jordan had to learn to trust his teammates; LeBron had to learn to trust himself. The first “controversy” of his career came in 2007, when he set up Donyell Marshall for the potential game-winning shot at the end of a playoff game instead of taking it himself. In contrast, one of the apocryphal stories from Jordan’s first championship with the Bulls was Phil Jackson demanding that he pass the ball to John Paxson.

LeBron certainly doesn’t have to be a pass-first player. He’s usually the biggest, fastest and most skilled player on the court. If he wanted, he could gun for the scoring title every season. Over their careers, LeBron has averaged three fewer field goal attempts a game than Jordan. In his tenth season, he’s taking the lowest number of field goal attempts in his career. Carmelo Anthony led the league with 28.7 points on 45% shooting; LeBron finished fourth at 26.8 points on 56% shooting. It’s not quite as simple as extrapolating out from that, but it’s not all that much more complicated, either.

You can see LeBron’s impact on the game already. After watching his team get dissected by LeBron’s all-around game in last year’s Finals, Kevin Durant came back this season with a different mindset. Rather than going for his fourth consecutive scoring title, Durant has become more of a playmaker, averaging a career-high number of assists. Without LeBron, the NBA’s big storyline about Durant would be whether he could co-exist with Russell Westbrook. But Kobe’s old quest to make the team “his” is not Durant’s, and that’s in part because it’s not LeBron’s, either. The relentless pursuit and proof of “alpha dog” status is played out, and while winning isn't any less important, winning in one very specific way has never seemed less so.

The Heat are a much better and more enjoyable team as a result of all this, and of LeBron's willingness to do things differently. The ball moves freely, rarely sticking in one player’s hand. Rather than hunting for their own shot, Miami’s best players hunt for the most efficient opportunity. When a team’s best player is unselfish nearly to a fault, everyone else has no choice but to follow along. In contrast, Jordan, like Kobe, was willing to do “whatever it takes” for his team to win, except if it meant swallowing his ego and giving up the ball. Jordan punched his own teammates and famously demeaned everyone around him. LeBron showed, and continues to show, that there is another way.

In basketball, more than any other team sport, there’s an inherent conflict between individual and the team. An openness is wired into the game: in basketball, every player has the choice whether to pass or to shoot. One player can take over a game of change a franchise, but no player, not even Jordan, is bigger than the game, or could be. Jordan still needed four other players on the floor with him; Kobe needed a center, whether he liked it or not.

LeBron’s ascent and uncommonly benevolent reign has proven that, in looking to find the next player with Jordan’s “will to win,” we were always asking the wrong question. When we talk about whether Andrew Wiggins might be the next LeBron, we will consider strongly how willingly and how well he passes the ball. No matter what happens, or how many rings he eventually wears, that will be LeBron’s legacy. Jordan’s story is a good one, and its main character a great one. But it’s not the only story, and that hero’s journey is not the only one out there.

Illustration by Dustin Watson/Dark Wing Illustration.

NOTE: Corrected for a mistake on Shaquille O'Neal's age in 2004.


Share |

Comments

The other four starters on the 2007 NBA Finals team were Hughes, Eric Snow, Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Basketball is not an individual sport, but LeBron was still judged by his team’s playoff failures.
trucchi clash of clans |
boom beach mod apk

This written piece gives fastidious understanding yet.

mental health treatment methods

I see the greatest contents on your blog and I extremely love reading them.

anxiety therapy methods

With no flimsiness, this is the best thing that I've analyzed in quite a while. Movie4k.is

This is surely a best content that I have never seen anywhere.
How To Get Rid of Termites

I sent your articles links to all my contacts and they all adore it including me.

20 yard dumpster rental Philadelphia

I would be supportive on all your articles and blogs as a result of they are simply up to the mark.
www.clickopener.com

You have actually made the good points here. I did lots of search on the same topic and didn’t find such informative blog like yours.
life insurance quotes

The blog is good enough, keep up writing such type of posts.

Bipolar information

Fabulous ideas you have still provided to us, anyway this blog is really wonderful for all.
Panasonic Arc 5 ES-LV81-K/ES-LV61-A Shaver Review

That’s really amazing and extraordinary blogs & can help those who get issues in searching this type of information.
opulence for life bonus

There is noticeably much to experience this. I believe you made several well points in Features as well.
Protect Your Cat and Home from Fleas

I truly get pleasure from while I read your blogs and its content.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder treatment methods

Really amazing! Your total focus on this topic is really appreciative, good work! car insurance

This written piece gives fastidious understanding yet.
tradeonix review

Awesome work! That is quite appreciated. I hope you’ll get more success.
project yourself

I have actually bookmarked your site because I truly love this knowledgeable source of information. Thanks
payday loans

I was searching the blogs for a long time and that is good to know that I have found such blogs here. Great working! Keep it up!
Get More Info

I was searching the blogs for a long time and that is good to know that I have found such blogs here. Great working! Keep it up!
Get More Info

Wonderful, just what a blog it is! This blog has provided the helpful data to us continue the good work.
opulence for life reviews

I am never-endingly investigating online for articles that can help me. There is unmistakably an awe-inspiring approach to consider this.http://www.youtube.com

I plainly getting a charge out of every single bit of it. It is a splendid site and choice offer. good pills

This is outstanding information and the best opportunity for the people who want to learn the great knowledge.
online url opener

Keep the balls rolling!! Nice posts you have given for us.
opulence for life reviews

Remarkable blog! I have no words to praise, it has really allured me. Panasonic ES-LV81-K

I generally don’t comment in the Blogs but your blog is the only one that forced me to, amazing work...
homeowners insurance miami

I’m trampled by your contents carry on the wonderful work. opulence for life

Your blog is full of entertainment and helpful information that can allure to anyone anytime. Continue posting!
Virtual ceo lifestyle Review

Cool blog site friend I'm about to suggest this to all my listing contacts.
http://virtualceolifestylebonuses.com/reviews/

Each time I used to always check blog posts within the first hours in the break of day, because I like to get information increasingly more. family law attorney stuart fl

Outstanding blog, in my opinion site owners should acquire a great deal out of this blog its very user welcoming. million dollar business secrets review

This article is actually remarkable one it helps many new users that desire to read always the best stuff. car insurance discounts

Hi buddies, it is great written piece entirely defined, continue the good work constantly.
cash advance with savings account

I have looked couple of days and discovered some enchanting made work on it. Yet, it is the best of all. online boutiques

The stuff in this blog is in not only incredible but also providing the great knowledge to the people.Virtual CEO lifestyle Eben Pagan

Thankfulness to my dad who informed me relating to this blog, this website is really amazing.
MRB Tree Service

These are the great blogs; I assure you that I really enjoyed a lot in reading.
www.virtualceolifestyle.net

Hi Dear, have you been certainly visiting this site daily, if that's the case you then will certainly get good knowledge.http://thevirtualceo.net

Remarkable blog! I have no words to praise, it has really allured me. hypothyroidism weight loss diet

I love really this blog site because it provides me the big deal of superb information.
Mark Curry

Your blogs stuff is purely enough for me personally.Inbox blueprint 2.0

This written piece gives fastidious understanding yet.personalcashadvance.com

Im no master, however I trust you simply made a fantastic point. You unquestionably completely comprehend what youre talking about, and I can really get behind that. cccam server Europe

It’s really such nice information to get advantage from
Inbox blueprint 2.0 review.

Remarkable blog! I have no words to praise, it has really allured me.forskolin

Thank you so much for such a great blog.
Eating on Samui

Hmm!! This blog is really cool, I’m so lucky that I have reached here and got this awesome information.
saint armor group payday loans

Insurance assistant Inc. is assisting insurance industry by providing them with advanced technological support and efficient work force. We offer services that best suit the needs of consumers. We devise strategies that help customers in maximizing their profitability. Our major services include Answering Services Customer Services Inquiry Handling Technical Support Services and Help Desk Support. customer service care

Hi I was searching for the blogs for many times, now I have reached at the right place.San Diego real estate broker

Remarkable blog! I have no words to praise, it has really allured me.compass tattoos