1.18.2007

Dead End Immanence



These last few weeks have been a time of great inward searching here at FreeDarko, the sort of perilous epoch during which coins are befaced and hospitals beckoned. Right left of my spleen and the knottiest ridges of my spirit, I stumbled upon a relic from a bygone brush with inspiration: LeBron F. James.

You may recall this most granite of prosperants. Last year during the playoffs, he followed a script untouched in its predestined chivalry, its non-stop clutch at perfection and monotheistic narrative. LeBron was the Chosen One like us Hebrews were, a reflection of an angry, all-mighty deity with no room for human frailty. His narrative was startling in its simplicity, like that billion-dollar epic that moves you because it dresses up plain truths in billowing, lumbering garbs. There are any number of better candidates for Basketball Jesus; LeBron was the Messiah of the prophets and chasids, and he made our loins quake accordingly.

But now, our Highness seems all but forgotten. The stats have dipped, the team somehow seems even shakier and less inviting, and the East's fraudulentness is approaching Nets-era intensity. Still, what I'm realizing is that LeBron may have had his moment because his myth admitteth progress, never process. When he first began his march through the postseason, this site was awash with complaints that the media was treating it as a "coronation." At the time, it struck me as needlessly grouchy; now, I'm seeing that LeBron's story might end up being as much, if not more, of a joke than Kobe's has become. Bean Thousand is often accused of imitating MJ, and yet no one suggests that his transformation into a more mature player might be every bit as contrived. If this is the case, the scale of his self-consciousness, and consciousness of history and legacy, are almost sickeningly grandiose. While there's nothing interesting about self-doubt, crippling self-doubt almost redeems itself through sheer chutzpah. The same is true for Bryant, whose has gone from coopting mannerisms to engineering his own imperfect salvation—so fucking demonic it becomes pathetically sincere.



Scan the skies for LBJ, and you'll find only a fixed point in space gradually making its way toward finality. There is little doubt that James is as perfect a basketball speciman—mentally, physically, spiritually, and diatonically—as the human animal has ever yielded. Even if his success does not always come instantly, eventually it will come to pass. Put simply, LeBron James will eventually get rings, get MVP's, and assume his rightful place near the top of the totem pole. That these Cavs are likely not going to facilitate this (cf. the Suns Massacre) does not thwart or question this; it merely puts it on hold. A dream deferred rots only if it fears the sun, and in LeBron's case, he feels not time and is sustained by his own inner glow. Kobe toys with his narrative because it will define him; LeBron is on such a different level that he's ultimately immune to a good story. When it works in favor of his upward drift, it enslaves us all. We may begrudge it, but there's a reason why we're witnesses, not believers.

LeBron now, though, is in limbo. No one ever call him disappointing, because he'll eventually get there. And while Cleveland may finish with a decent record, it's hard to take them seriously as a contendor. Assault me all you want with "best record in the conference"—that team could get beat by Washington, Chicago, Detroit or Orlando in the 'offs, and no one would bat an eyelash. Move over to the West, and that number jumps considerably. LeBron can still take them somewhere, but unless he surpasses last year, we'll barely notice. Imperfection simply doesn't make any sense in reference to James, and so these falterings or moments of flux are written off as indecipherable. There is no Wade-like push to the top, or Melo-esque fall and redemption, to be had within his pages. Only fit of ascendance, spelled by caves that will be forgotten.

38 Comments:

At 1/18/2007 12:31 PM, Blogger d.d. tinzeroes said...

From the moment he arrived I felt James somehow removed the onus of MONMJ from Kobe. 'Course, now it doesn't really matter since we have at last emerged from the "post-Jordan hangover."

 
At 1/18/2007 12:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So your saying LeBron is boring because the story is already written? I thought it was because he had no personality. Or is that Kobe. I'm not Hebrew, but my name's Jeremiah.

 
At 1/18/2007 12:37 PM, Blogger The Assimilated Negro said...

dropping the Barry reference is bold. Might his dream be deferred also? First Hil, then Barry? Thus making Hilary the Dwayne Wade (or Dirk Nowitzki, see '07 NBA Champs) of politics?

 
At 1/18/2007 1:36 PM, Anonymous Red Snapper said...

Wasn't KG similarly predestined? Is he still? At what point in his career does the ring become unconquerable, and why can't LBJ fit the same mold?

 
At 1/18/2007 2:04 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

LeBron is in limbo. He'll get there, but like all the greats he'll have to take the stairs, not the elevator. Small steps at a time - a first round victory one year; then the conference finals the next; then come the Championships, and the MVPs, and the legacy.

The problem with the KGs, the Wades, and the Dirks is this - they are all great players, but they'll never be in the same levels as the Jordans, Magics, Shaqs, and LeBrons (the level of G.O.A.T.s). You don't compare Jordan to Chris Mullin.

As for Kobe, he may be writing the script, but that's the beauty of Kobe. He started writing this script last year in the playoffs, with the failure in Game 7. It's so scripted (the taking the teammates under the wings, the "Kobe learns how to share while the team learns how to play, and together they all learn how to win") it could be a Disney movie. Very few players ever could turn the NBA into their own plotted movie; Kobe can. It's a testiment to why he is, sadly, the best player in the game right now, at least until LeBron finishes climbing the stairs.

 
At 1/18/2007 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh man, that Obama photo blows my fucking mind. Where do you find this shit, Shoals?

At what point can we start questioning LeBron's drive to be more than just a "star" in the Hiltonian sense? At this point, what really separates him from Anna Kournikova?

 
At 1/18/2007 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's time to go watch some basketball. Does no one believe Kobe when he says that the gameplan this year is to pass more? When we say that Kobe was some sort of monster pre-playoffs-v-Suns are we just ignoring the fact that the Lakers were the 7th most efficient team in the league last year?

And I agree that the problem with Lebron, Wade, et al is that they are boring and have no personality.

 
At 1/18/2007 2:32 PM, Anonymous lightninghank said...

"as perfect a basketball speciman—mentally"

Nice piece, but I gotta question this bit. Dude seems so uninspired this year. My 2 theories are that he's cruising through the regular season Shaq-style, or that he's disgusted with his lousy teammates. But I also think Pooh's point is very worthy of consideration.

Then again, he's so young! I'm not old, but I shudder to think at how bad I was at noticing and taking advantage of opportunities (on the court, in life, whatever) when I was 21ish...

 
At 1/18/2007 3:16 PM, Blogger Trey said...

Excepting a season-stealing injury, Lebron's career arc is mirroring MJ's thus far. Playoff struggles and ridiculous stats early, (hopefully) rings and MVPs late.

 
At 1/18/2007 3:35 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

still trying to make that "bean thousand" nickname stick, huh?

 
At 1/18/2007 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My question still stands. I know it's dangerous to equate certain types of personality with lack of intensity, but LeBron seems comfortable. To my memory, Magic was the only winning superstar who didn't seem somewhat monomaniacal about it (and that impression was more a result of The Smile, since by every candid account, Magic was absolutely a killer competitor)

 
At 1/18/2007 3:42 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

this year's "comfortable" was "eerie" last april

 
At 1/18/2007 4:04 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

I understand the fear of "comfortable", for without that determination to win one cannot be great; however, LeBron is still only 21. He won three championships in four years at HS; that's all we have to go by. Inferior competition, but even as a 14 year old freshman he was winning championships. Dominating the NBA, even for the what could be the most gifted player ever, takes time. Don't mistake "failure to dominate" for "lack of competitiveness". When he has a team that is built to win, then (and only then) will we find out if he is truly a champion...

/end cliche spouting.

 
At 1/18/2007 4:15 PM, Anonymous Sourounis said...

ΟΚ, this is coming from a european who can only see a few games each year but it would seem to me, that once we go beyond the hype, the player that has the most desire (and ability) to win from THAT draft class is Melo.

Having watched all 3 of them during the summer i would put Lebron as the worst of them. I don't see him as winning and i agree with Pooh that (as Garnett) he may easily go without winning anything, or (as Champerlain) without winning enough.

 
At 1/18/2007 4:19 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

If lightninghank is right and LBJ is "cruising through the regular season Shaq-style" (which he wouldn't actually be doing unless he faked a minor injury that allowed him to take a couple weeks off in true Shaq-style), that is a really bad indicator for where LBJ's career and legacy are headed. #1 he doesn't have a Kobe or Wade type player riding shotgun to carry the load for him while he yawns through the first six months of the season; and #2 Shaq is absolutely the wrong person for anyone to model their career after since he (and not LBJ) is the greatest physical specimen to ever play in the Association and has done arguably the bare minimum with it. 1 MVP trophy and never having led the league in blocks or rebounds? Is this really all Shaq should have been capable of? Shaq hasn't really applied himself since he won his first title; but if LBJ is modeling Shaq's "recipe for success" I'll at least give this to Shaq: he waited till he won a title before going R.O.A.D. on us.

It's really not a good sign that LeBron's numbers have taken that dip this year, not despite his age but because of it. The guy is 22 (as of a few weeks ago), and what 22 year old shouldn't show marked improvement over what he did the previous year? By comparison, look what Kobe did when he was 22: he upped his scoring average by 6 points a game and helped the Lakers win their second title with a 23-1 run to end the regular season and playoffs. LBJ is too young to be taking steps back unless he's hurt.

 
At 1/18/2007 4:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LBJ's model is more the opposite of KG than an imitation of Shaq. He is on a shitty team, he knows his day will come, & he doesn't want to kill himself 82 games a year to make his team look just good enough to justify keeping it together.

 
At 1/18/2007 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto on shaq being both the greatest physical specimen and the greatest waste of potential in the league- maybe Stanley Roberts can get an honorable mention. Furthermore, Shaq is indeed the true Anti-KG in that he has never played in a less than loaded team - in addition to having had the pleasure of being paired with an ALL-NBA guard for almost every season in his career, one could hardly call his other teammates scrubs- chokers maybe, but never scrubs. And the cure for a team full of chokers is an alpha dog to take over in the clutch which was easily shaq or his sidekicks role for the taking.

That Shaq has less than 8 championships + 8 scoring titles + 8 MVP's + 16 rebounding titles (Though scoring titles and championships were out of his reach while Jordan was ruling the roost, He still had the potential to lead the league in rebounding) is a testament to his indolent disposition and wasted potential.

 
At 1/18/2007 6:07 PM, Anonymous Abacus said...

This post is like a dagger in the heart. LBJ’s ‘cave’ or season-to-date in limbo has been a profound disappointment for me. The dip in stats is bothersome because it is distinctly not “jordanesqe,” but we also can’t really compare him to Bird or Magic because they all had Squads (capital S) early in their careers and won titles. We don’t want to compare him to AI, Kobe or other modern superstars, because it all went so wrong for those 2. So the lack of story is discomforting.

But at the end of the day you have to hold out hope that perhaps his career is just following a different arc. Maybe the cavs will make a big time trade for a troubled star (J Kidd perhaps? Rasheed Wallace? Do they have cap space?) or LBJwill go on a tear in the playoffs and at least make it to the finals. That would be exciting…

 
At 1/18/2007 6:10 PM, Anonymous Chris R said...

To approach this from another angle: does his ring get presented in Cleveland or New Jersey.

In order to keep LeBron happy, Danny Ferry and Co. went on a spending spree that in retrospect looks incredibly misguided: Z re-signed, DJones Hughes and Marshall all signed to big contracts.... well, it is kind of a dysfunctional team to watch a great deal of the time. It doesn't help that Lebron looks like he coasts through games unless they come down to the last four minutes.

By the way: the witnesses vs. believers line was terrific, Shoals.

 
At 1/18/2007 6:34 PM, Anonymous amphibian said...

Wasn't it Pat Riley who said Shaq is the unacknowledged MVP every year? Apart from the Jordan's reign and one of the Nash years, he's been the most important player in just about every game he appeared in. By rights, he should have won at least five MVPs.

However, it is hard to give the Maurice Podoloff Daps to a man who refuses to put the full amount of work in - as evidenced by his FT percentage, off-season conditioning and the mini-vacations.

WV: fvfrbg - five for the big guy.

 
At 1/18/2007 7:09 PM, Anonymous MaxwellDemon said...

Can anyone else imagine a counterlife in which Boozer is still a Cavalier? I have to believe that LBJ's story arc would have a much happier Act I in that world.

 
At 1/18/2007 7:10 PM, Anonymous Freak Doer said...

Unfortunately for Lebron his destiny lays in the hands of other men. All superstars have to learn this at some point in their development, there has to be a Kato to your Green Hornet. The great fallacy of any basketball team is to characterise it as "Player X's team" The goal for this organisation is finding the next moss covered superstar (Billups, Marion, Butler et al) to do enough of the dirty tasks so that the master may shine. Building a championship team is akin to alchemy in it's almost sheer hopelessness, but to start with it needs a star and that star needs a servant worthy of the master.

Ave caesar! Morituri te salutamus

 
At 1/18/2007 7:30 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

Wasn't it Pat Riley who said Shaq is the unacknowledged MVP every year? Apart from the Jordan's reign and one of the Nash years, he's been the most important player in just about every game he appeared in. By rights, he should have won at least five MVPs.

O RLY? There was an article about that very thing on ESPN two years ago, questioning why Shaq only won the award once, and it went year-by-year and compared Shaq to those who won and concluded that in fact Shaq really only did truly deserve the award the one time he won it. Before just throwing a statement like that out there, let's look at it.

By your own admission, if Jordan was playing (let's say with the Bulls, to be fair), he was automatically more valuable than Shaq, so this would automatically remove Shaq from contention for the 92-93, 95-96, 96-97 & 97-98 seasons. In the two years Jordan was playing baseball, Hakeem Olajuwon was unquestionably the best player in the game and Shaq even said he most wanted to be compared to Hakeem (David Robinson won one of those two MVP awards, due mainly to the fact that the Rockets took their repeat season off and didn't fire it up till playoffs, very Shaq-esque). Then Jordan came back and Karl Malone won a couple that should have belonged to His Airness and Tim Duncan (but not Shaq) before Phil Jackson arrived in LA and actually got Shaq to put forth some effort.

For one season.

After that, Shaq never put forth any effort during the regular season again in a Laker uniform, sitting out with toe injuries and recovering "on company time" etc. Meanwhile the Kings, Spurs and (briefly) TWolves ruled the regular seasons as the Lakers failed to ever secure a top seed again. Did Shaq deserve it in 2000-2001 over Allen Iverson? Don't think so. Did he deserve it any of the following three seasons in which he missed 15 games each year? Don't think so. How bout last year, was Shaq the Heat's most valuable player? Emphatically no.

So that just leaves 2004-2005, Shaq's first year with the Heat, when he lost out to Steve Nash. You decide if Shaq really deserved it that year, but you could at least argue he did. But that's the only year. So Shaq, the greatest physical specimen to ever play the game, was only deserving of the MVP (maybe) twice. Also, for the unquestionably most dominant center at least since Kareem Abdul-Jabar, it is unforgivable that he never once led the league in either rebounds or blocked shots. Hell, even Chris Webber once led the league in rebounds and Shawn Bradley once led the league in blocks (so did Marcus Camby, David Robinson and Elton Brand, and Theo Ratliff did it twice).

Like I said, if LeBron is following Shaq's lead, he's never going to become the guy everyone thought he would. After all, Shaq's true legacy is that when people talk about the all-time best centers, Shaq is battling George Mikan for the fourth spot, not battling Kareem, Wilt and Russell for the first.

 
At 1/18/2007 9:22 PM, Anonymous victor clauser said...

Maybe I'm an idealist, but I keep thinking about how last year was LeBron's first taste of "the 2nd season". His first experience of that combined with his recognition that he will have to carry the team on his back in order to advance (in the playoffs or his legacy) could be factoring in to his performance..

 
At 1/18/2007 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing that amazes me re LeBron is that after last season he signed an extension! If it's clear to me that the cavs front office is no use surely he and his people know this too? Especially after the Boozer fiasco. Also he has all the money he will ever need so why not play his hand and put the pressure back on the front office to make something happen? I realise that he could be painted as a villain with such behaviour but it seems to me that he just doesn't care about winning that much.

 
At 1/18/2007 10:24 PM, Blogger Brother Afrocan said...

One of the things I distinctly remember about Jordan is that I NEVER once saw him openly take even a single play off, let alone a full game or cruise through a couple of weeks in the season, NEVER- Whether sick, injured, in foul trouble, having an off night or had just spent all night losing millions gambling, He ALWAYS brought it. Every team that came to play the Bulls knew they would be in for a dogfight. Although losing to the Bulls was not a given conclusion, in order to win you had to pry the victory out of MJ's cold dead fingers that even then still held on with a vice-like death grip. Furthermore from insider accounts such as the Jordan Rules book- it appears he took this competitive streak to practice sessions as well.
In contrast any casual basketball fan can see Lebron has cruised through some of the games this season, clearly indifferent to the action on the court. To be fair, Lebron is not the only superstar guilty of this- but then again not everyone is MJ23 (but I thought this was LBJ23's destiny?). Why Lebron is resorting is anyone's guess- maybe he looks at KG and sees intensity in every game does not always pay dividends in terms of legacy and rings, maybe he sees the stiffs he is stuck with and is disheartened, maybe he has a secret injury nobody knows anything about, maybe as many have opined he is deciding to take the Shaq-esque approach of cruising through the regular season to save something in the tank for the playoffs- A disastrous role model as Wild Yams has rightly pointed out.

 
At 1/18/2007 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Boozer fiasco happened under the Gund/Paxson/Silas Cavaliers. LeBron re-upped with the Gilbert/Ferry/Brown version.

As a Cavs fan, the biggest thing I see is that no one is really willing to take LBJ to task. If he starts jacking up bad jumpers (which he does a bit), Brown won't take him out. Everyone knows that LeBron's their meal ticket. No one in the organization is willing to criticize him.

Plus, the kid is still 22. Am I making excuses? Probably; the fact that they still go through stretches of terrible offense (9 points in the first quarter vs Portland) isn't encouraging.

 
At 1/19/2007 12:17 AM, Anonymous Abacus said...

to some extent, can lebron's malaise (sp?) be attributed to the lack of true alpha dogs in the league and the instant acclaim he gained? lebron, wade and warmelo have already been annointed the holy trinity of NBA, with only 1 title between them! and wade's title was won in the long shadows of shaq and riley, no matter how spectacular d-wade was.

i remember with jordan, no matter how great he was, there were always people, especially purists and true heads, dogging him in the early part of his career. he was constantly compared unfavorably to Magic, Bird, and (a bit less) Isaiah because he hadn't won a title...

with lebron, who is he trying surpass? not Kobe (shaq factor, bad PR ) not AI (not titles), not duncan (too bland ). steve nash has won 2 MVPs due to the vacuum at the top - he he has yet to win a western conf. championship, much less a title!

so why would lebron be in a rush? he's only 22 and he's essentially competing against guys who are retired. it's super disappointing that he doesn't appear more self-motivated, but understandable given circumstance.

maybe if wade wins another title this year we'll see more motivation from the king ...

 
At 1/19/2007 12:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is LeBron so deified? Yes, he puts up big numbers that, over a career, are instant HoF, but we can probably come up with a few players that are actually better than him today. Kobe, Wade, Nash, Duncan, Dirk. And then some more that are at or basically with him in Yao, KG, maybe a healthy T-Mac. (Yao is getting bonus points for position here.) LeBron's lack of focus, defense, and spirit keep him from being a top 5 player. Sorry if I am not sufficiently metaphysical, but man, I look at this and am convinced Lebron is not even a top 5 player.

 
At 1/19/2007 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are overrating LeBron as a winner, saying his time for winning will certainly come.. Once Kobe/ Suns/Mavs era is done, Dwight Howard could take over...who freakin knows?

LeBron doesnt strike me some1 who wants to flat out win..Like an MJ or Kobe or Bird.
But I agree on 1 thing, he makes the game look easy..

 
At 1/19/2007 1:45 AM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

I knew for sure that LBJ was all image at the World Championships. The U.S. team was coming to a bench after a called timeout while getting their asses handed to them by Greece. LBJ had this big grin on his face while trying to high-five his teammates. He stopped 'Melo long enough to whisper something to him. Then James started laughing. Anthony looked at him like he was crazy and sat down.

That's all I needed to see.

 
At 1/19/2007 1:58 AM, Anonymous tigermonkey said...

The problem is that the perception of competitive intensity in the NBA has been defined by itchy got-something-to-prove-to-the-world mj, kobe, scarface types. Understandably, LeBron doesn't have that (shit, he was crowned the King before he played his first game). What Lebron does have is the fear of losing all that, of not being thought of as the successor, of becoming a perennial loser, a KG. So when challeneged by the media to prove himself in the slam dunk contest (which he would most definitely lose), he doesn't go out and try to dominate. He laughs at its participants (Chris Andersen) and derides it as being pedestrian. He doesn't make post game promises, he whispers in Gil's ear during a free throw. He's competitive but with nothing to prove.

 
At 1/19/2007 3:29 AM, Blogger adam8000plus said...

Diatonically? Sheeet...

 
At 1/19/2007 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LBJ was crowned the king because he always surpassed our expectations of him. Going back to his high school career, his rookie season, even last years playoffs. At the end of the day he always seems to surpass the ceiling of popular opinion and expectations. This is what makes this season rather frustrating because for the first time it appears the King may not live up to his thrown.
Lebron is without a doubt, an amazing physical and talent amalgamation- which when examined closely I think is being wasted at this point. Given his skill-set and abilities, I think it has to be deemed a disappointment if the man does not post at least 20 triple doubles a season- he is clearly capable of doing so, the only metric he can catch a free pass on is assists as though lie in the hands of his bricklaying teammates.

 
At 1/19/2007 9:26 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'm a terrible colleague for not linking to this earlier in the week, but by all means rush to read joey's latest nba post, which deals with the importance of big men. my pr department is telling me to take issue with it, but my rational intellect says not to.

 
At 1/19/2007 12:56 PM, Anonymous Abacus said...

i think you should be much more concerned by the fact that scoop jackson wrote a fawning piece on Arenas today for espn.com

awful, just awful. could be the beginning of the end for your boy . . .

 
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