Monday, June 04, 2007

I'm back, and hopefully I'm here to stay (so is LeBron)

Today officially ends my posting hiatus. I really shouldn't have to explain why I went so long without posting. After all, this is my blog, and I created to discuss sports as I please. Of course, I also had no idea the popularity that this site would gain when I started up a year ago. To rationalize my posting (or lack thereof), it was simply a fact that I wasn't inspired to write anything. School was winding down, so end of the year projects, final exams, and AP tests were bearing down on me. Track had begun to take over my life for a couple of weeks in May, and my newly appointed role as editor-in-chief of my high school's student newspaper was a lot more responsibility than I had originally expected. This also goes without mentioning the curse that has happened to every student, regardless of age, since the beginning of time: the curse of the calendar. I saw summer on the horizon, and as a result, my priorities became jumbled. Having fun in the sunny Ohio weather became a daily goal of mine, and this site became lost in the mix. But now, I have become re-inspired to post again. The excuses end at the end of this sentence, and hopefully, this site will once again prosper.

In literature, a Bildungsroman is a type of novel in which the young protagonist has a coming of age experience, and is forever changed by the events that unfold within the story. If the Cleveland Cavaliers ever have a book based off of their season, that young protagonist will of course be LeBron James. James' development and maturity as a basketball player from the end of the regular season to this point has been one for the ages. Ever since he entered the league, people have tried to refute the inevitable comparison of LeBron to Michael Jordan, but watching him in the playoffs, it seems as if we actually do have the unthinkable on our hands: The second coming of the greatest basketball player in the history of the league. Sure, it may seem rash to make such a statement after just one series, but looking back on what transpired in the six games of Detroit versus Cleveland, the writing is on the wall of a strikingly similar career path for LeBron to be "Like Mike".

In 1989, Michael Jordan hit perhaps the most famous shot in basketball history when he seemed to defy gravity and put up an off balance jump shot over Cleveland's Craig Ehlo that went in the basket as the buzzer went off, sending Chicago to a dramatic game seven victory over the favored Cavaliers. In game four of that series, Michael Jordan missed a key free throw, causing Chicago to lose, and allowing Cleveland to stretch the series to a deciding seventh game. Of course, no one remembers how Michael "choked" in game four, because the only image that anyone remembers from that series was the game winning shot. It took Jordan a matter of one series to go from hero, down to zero, and back to hero for good. When the words "victory" and "Michael Jordan" are put together in a sentence, there is one scene that should go through everyone's mind, and then send shivers down their backs.

Two shots, two completely different scenarios, equally important.
Back to the present, in game three, LeBron had perhaps an equally career-defining play against Detroit. Although it wasn't as dramatic as Michael's shot, they both sent exact messages of a mix between "This is the new me, and you're going to see a lot of it for the next 10+ years," and "How you like me now, Biatch?" The play I am talking about came with the game tied at 68 in the fourth quarter, with 7:24 seconds remaining. LeBron took the ball at the three point line, found a lane in the Pistons defense, and drove to the hoop with only one thing standing in the way of himself and yet another thunderous dunk to add to his highlight reel: the 6'11" Rasheed Wallace. When all was said and done, LeBron found himself at the free throw line, looking to finish off a three point play. Although he missed the free throw, he gave the Cavaliers a lead that they would never relinquish, and the momentum it provided stretched into the next three games afterwards, and led the Cavaliers to a dramatic come from behind series victory.

That play led all of his critics to instantly start thinking, "maybe this guy isn't the choke that we all thought he was." Of course, despite essentially defying the laws of physics and making the series interesting again, most of these critics were still left unsatisfied.

Then came game six.

In Detroit.

With a chance to give his team a 3-2 lead.

That night (and early morning), was perhaps the climax of this young protagonist's Bildungsroman. It was the point where, despite being an established star in the league, he went from being "One of the best." to, "The best." After racking 48 points, including the final 25 and 29 of the team's last 30, his performance was eerily similar to MJ's 63 point performance against Boston in 1986. Both players were essentially the only offensive producers on their teams, and both were up against one of the best teams in the league (that Boston team featured the likes of Bird, Walton, Parrish, McHale, Johnson, and Ainge among others). The only difference? LeBron won the game, and pretty much the series, with his show. Jordan didn't.

But what does it all mean? Of course, we won't know for years to come. But if LeBron can manage to upset the Spurs on his own in the NBA Finals, then perhaps it could mean that not only were all the comparisons of himself to MJ true, but he could potentially even surpass Jordan. If LeBron wins a title this year, he will do so at the age of 22. Michael didn't get the proverbial monkey off his back until he was 28. Although he still would have a long way to go, and predicting the distant future in professional basketball couldn't be further from an exact science, maybe -- just maybe -- he'll go from the "Next MJ" to the "First LeBron."

As always, comments, critiques, and questions are appreciated. Just make sure to relate it to LeBron and NBA-like issues.

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