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

An entrancing examination is worth remark. I surmise that it is best to compose additional on this matter, it won't be a forbidden theme however for the most part individuals are insufficient to chat on such points. To the following. Here's to you senior care homes

This is very informatics, fresh and clear. I feel that everything has been portrayed in methodical way with the goal that peruser could get greatest data and realize numerous things. AIRPORT TAXI MINNESOTA

i am surprisingly here. I discovered this board and I in discovering It really accommodating and it helped me out a great deal. I would like to present something back and help other people, for example, you helped me. comment investir 2000 euros

As a matter of fact, you can often smell the barbeque from one of the site grills. miamitokeywesttoursguides.com/miami-beach-night/

The thinking and method of reasoning behind this online journals makes it a splendid read.avalanche car cover

The blog and data is excellent and informative as well. senior care in burlington

The data you have posted is extremely helpful. The destinations you have alluded was great. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing.. window installation charleston sc

This web journal site is really cool! How was it made ! fitness

All that the people who are intelligent the prizewinning companies in the mankind for their printing purposes are the ones who necessity goodness counselling as to which is the fellowship that can rattling improve you in getting the job finished and that too in the extremum likely case using varied techniques equal written designing. cheapest Door Hangers Printing only at cheap55printing.com

Very nice blog and articles. I am realy very happy to visit your blog. Now I am found which I actually want. I check your blog everyday and try to learn something from your blog. Thank you and waiting for your new post.
wu transfer

What could possibly make someone’s day other than reading such beautifully crafted blog such as this.
http://wellnesscoachs.net/effective-supplement-that-protects-your-skin-from-dangerous-diseases/

Awesome and interesting article. Great things you've always shared with us. Thanks. Just continue composing this kind of post.
cozinha planejada zona norte

Your articles help me a lot in all mediums of subjects. assisted living in monmouth county

Great post i must say and thanks for the information. Education is definitely a sticky subject. However, is still among the leading topics of our time. I appreciate your post and look forward to more.
Accountants East Grinstead

It is perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you few interesting things or tips. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read more things about it!
Self Assessment Tax Return

Extremely pleasant blog and articles. I am realy extremely glad to visit your blog. Presently I am discovered which I really need. I check your blog ordinary and attempt to take in something from your blog. Much thanks to you and sitting tight for your new post.http://www.a-counter.com/people-search-for-possums-online/

Great post i must say and thanks for the information. Education is definitely a sticky subject. However, is still among the leading topics of our time. I appreciate your post and look forward to more.
plastic cable carrier

This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck. جدة

Great post i must say and thanks for the information. Education is definitely a sticky subject. However, is still among..!
bunnings sheds

Truly, this article is really one of the very best in the history of articles. I am a antique ’Article’ collector and I sometimes read some new articles if I find them interesting. And I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work!
most comfortable camping cots

Very nice blog and articles. I am realy very happy to visit your blog. Now I am found which I actually want. I check your blog everyday and try to learn something from your blog. Thank you and waiting for your new post. Death Certificate

It's really nice and meanful. it's really cool blog. Linking is very useful thing.you have really helped lots of people who visit blog and provide them usefull information. Hotel Project Furniture

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.minecraft en francais |
codes psn free

This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck
Mounting TV

What a great initiative here. I'll look around the site and see if I can offer any additional ideas. Thanks.!
click here

I personally use them exclusively high-quality elements : you will notice these folks during:
الفينير

On this subject internet page, you'll see my best information, be sure to look over this level of detail. agen casino online

Subscribe to Sites: If the site you leave a comment is related, why not subscribe to the rss feed right in your feed reader (I use Google feed reader)  so you can see what else the blog owner has to say, and continue commenting on the same site! This would be called networking! seo pricing plans

I read your blogs regularly. Your humoristic way is amusing, continue the good work!
help on writing an essay

I have never been to such type of posts before truly remarkable stuff it has.
writing techniques for persuasive writing

Much thanks to you such a great amount for sharing this awesome blog.Very moving and accommodating too.Hope you keep on sharing a greater amount of your ideas.I will love to peruse.
Escort en Antofagasta

Great post i must say and thanks for the information. Education is definitely a sticky subject. However, is still among the leading topics of our time. I appreciate your post and look forward to more.
تطبيقات جوال

The quality of your articles and listing is really attractive.
office furniture

I’m reading the stuff of your site continuously n I have got really a lot of the things that’s very important. You have put the great effort here.
HqEssays

I’m excited to uncover this page. I need to to thank you for ones time for this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every part of it and i also have you saved to fav to look at new information in your site.Sexosur

This is helpful, nonetheless it can be crucial so that you can check out the following website: insurance

We are tied directly into the sate’s renewal database which allows us to process your request almost instantly. flowers rio de janeiro

Writing with style and getting good compliments on the article is quite hard, to be honest.But you've done it so calmly and with so cool feeling and you've nailed the job. This article is possessed with style and I am giving good compliment. Best! flowers to sao paulo

Not just you will have the capacity to advance your own particular business yet you will likewise have the capacity to pick up bits of knowledge into contender's systems twitter followers | clash of clans cheats

This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck. friends with benefits

This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the good work. I have been meaning to write something like this on my website and you have given me an idea. send flower to Brazil

I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read!!! I definately enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog a must read blog!!!! งานคีย์ข้อมูล

Truly, this article is really one of the very best in the history of articles. I am a antique ’Article’ collector and I sometimes read some new articles if I find them interesting. And I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work! dental seo

Much thanks to you such a great amount for sharing this awesome blog.Very moving and accommodating too.Hope you keep on sharing a greater amount of your ideas.I will love to peruse. https://sites.google.com/site/lostsscard/

Its as if you had a great grasp on the subject matter, but you forgot to include your readers. Perhaps you should think about this from more than one angle. Visit This Link

Great tips and very easy to understand. This will definitely be very useful for me when I get a chance to start my blog. see post

I even have been gifted for hours and I haven't suffered such awesome stuff.
shopping

Awesome blog. I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work! free download

I generally want to peruse the quality substance and this thing I found in you post.xk8 car covers

You create sense out of the foremost complex topics.

visit this site right here