Samson Is My Leader (RAZED)

Forget it. The post is gone, because I can't stomach the sight of it. Your excellent comments, many of which made the Bron/Durant contrast far better than I did (I was a little distracted), remain. Let them be as a monument to ideas, this hole in the ground, a testament to my folly. At least I now have an account at a Cavs message board.

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At 2/21/2009 2:15 PM, Blogger The Other Van Gundy said...

Please, man. 50 points is a big fucking deal, no matter who you are. I only caught the highlights, but the quality of LeBron's triples were what astonished me. He was hoisting from buzzer-beater range; none of that toeing the line business. We're talking 26 feet and out, every one like a lobbed grenade. That barrage looked like LeBron testing his own limits, while 9 other guys happened to be on the court, just throwing up heat check after heat check and realizing his temperature=the SUN.

So no, those 3s weren't really "racked" up. That trivializes the salvo. LeBron's slashing scores are easier for him than the long game, since his incredible physicality and arsenal of hopsteps and crab dribbles (paired with the ref's allergies to calling travels) allow him to get to the hoop so easily. For James to take his weakness and for one night make it his strength seemed to me a terrifying display of power and mastery to come, a head on a pike for the rest of the league to gape at.

You say that every game for LeBron should be a great one, and I agree. His own physical gifts are so great there's nothing stopping him from complete domination save himself. So James' narrative, thus far, has been really internalized: LeBron vs. himself, a kind of basketball schizophrenia. Doesn't it make sense that he's got the alter egos? I think it's pretty special when LeBron manages to overcome whatever internal resistance he has to utter supremacy, and can't wait for when he puts that hurdle behind him completely.

Cosigned on Durant, but right now I feel like you're dismissing LeBron the same way a hipster dismisses anything that more than 10 non-hipsters like. There have been 282 non-Wilt 50pt games since 1949. LeBron just gave us the 283.

At 2/21/2009 2:28 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

No way am I dismissing LeBron. And you're right, I'm probably underselling just how impressive a lot of his threes are, or how much he's improved in that regard. But these games seem so effortless, almost as if he's decided to go with the jumper tonight because it's falling. That's how I felt about the MSG game (which, incidentally, is when I was forced to eat crow about just how rare 50-point games are), and it's less about how amazing these games are from a basketball perspective, but what they mean vis a vis the myth of LBJ.

I think you are right, at this point LeBron is playing against himself. Kobe and Wade (now even more so than the championship year?) feel complete. James can seem like he's just fucking around, or deciding to test the limits of his jumper. Is he toying with us, or the game? It's a new form of questioning his aggressiveness, I guess. And yes, people who question his range are stupid. Still, did it feel like a signature performance? That's been my beef with Game seven of last year's ECF.

It's like, yeah, we know LeBron can get points no matter what. I'm most interested in those times where he seems wholly engaged by it. Which of course means "where his entire relevance to basketball comes into play".

I'll shut up now. Maybe it's just that by contrast, no points Durant score seem trivial, taken for granted, or a lark.

BTW Don't forget I think this was much less of a "problem" when all the Cavs were healthy.

At 2/21/2009 2:54 PM, Blogger Zydruuuunas said...

Lebron doesn't want to get beat up like a porn star play after play, so he does need to show and exude efficiency from downtown, and if he continues to do so he's with out a doubt the best player in the game today.

James with a good 3 point shot> Jordan

At 2/21/2009 3:03 PM, Blogger Carter Blanchard said...

Just watched the highlights, and while I'm totally on board with the fact that we haven't seen the "signature LeBron game" yet and that Durant by comparison scores because his soul aches to rather than merely because he has the power to, it's hard to ever shrug off 50. To my knowledge, LeBron pulling up for a 30-footers in transition is something we've never see him do before. Each time he flashes a new quiver it's like we're getting fresh glimpse of the Lebrocapalypse that awaits. So while last night might not have mattered in and of itself, I think it matters because of what it portends.

At 2/21/2009 3:10 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I buy, and rather like, that. But at the same time, what made LeBron's first half amazing was the sense that he'd finally come into his own, put it all together, gotten his ducks in a row, and was now on his way to immortality. Now we have to once again put him in the "not quite yet" category, and raise his ceiling (if that term even works with him) even higher? What's next, a growth spurt?

At 2/21/2009 3:21 PM, Blogger roland major said...

I don't think the highlights really do it justice. If you have league pass broadband just watch the last minute of the 1st half and the first 2 1/2 minutes of the 3rd quarter. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

At 2/21/2009 3:29 PM, Blogger Posit said...

Watch the game. There was some incredible swag on display. At times (this season) Bron has looked tentative and almost embarrassed to be shooting 3s, but last night it was pure "check this out", from 3 steps behind the line or with a body draped over him, pure non-fuck-giving stuff.

At 2/21/2009 4:14 PM, Blogger Custom K said...

Shoals, I have read this blog for two years now and have never had reason to comment, mostly because you are usually spot on. But really? To call LeBron's game almost "inauthentic"? Really? Just because the man was NBA JAMmin it Super Nintendo style for 2 minutes does not make his game lacking. In fact, take out those 22 points in 3 1/2 minutes and he ends up with a typical Bron game - 33 points, 1 threes. But the fact that he made those long ones all in a row like that makes it unreal and far above and beyond anything KD is doing or has done. Looks like dude had practiced the "30 footer in transition" for weeks before he pulled it out for real in a game where his team needed him (They were down by 10 just before the half - when LeBron hit a ridiculous 3 from way out at the buzzer). And nobody expected it. I mean is he crazy? He's LeBron - He can get to the rim at will. But that's just it. The man came up with a way to top himself, to challenge himself to ever greater heights in the same manner that you applaud KD for doing and I can't let you applaud KD for "ridiculously long threes" and then turn around and chastise LeBron for it. I just can't. Seems to me like you are reacting to the capitalist framework with which we are forced to view "the LeBrons". Strip away all the corporate sponsors and generically endearing adspeak and what you have is the best wing player we have ever seen or will ever see. Period. Imagine if you were Jesus and you had been told since you were 12 that you were the Son of God, it was drilled into your head every minute of every day. And then you are given $90m on your 18th birthday and asked to carry a team, a brand, a city, a conference, a league, and a country on your back. And then you do what he's been doing for 5 years - of course, he's a little bit "branded", "homogenized", "sold out" whatever... but this is no reason to criticize his game. I'm afraid I have to agree with the Other Van Gundy, I think you're getting a little elitist with this post. Like you only listen to "indie rock" but think Radiohead is a POS rock band.

At 2/21/2009 4:54 PM, Blogger Mercurialblonde said...

Well he did also have 9 assists, and if you watch the entire highlight package, he got a lot of points at the line, from going to the basket. Scored with a skyhook even in the first half. A couple and 1s in there as well.

In a lot of ways it was the typical Lebron 50 point game, because usually when he goes over 50, he's also throwing assists and rebounding.

The quintisential Lebron performance by the way, was Game 5 against Detroit, where he was going to the basket through the Pistons defense for 29 of his teams final 30 points for the win. That was the sheer reality warping the game conforms to my will moment so far of his career.

Though pulling up where he was pulling up to shoot those 3's last night, were certainly very Bron in their own way.

At 2/21/2009 5:05 PM, Blogger d said...

This post just reads like you are angry at him because you can't figure out his ceiling. Sometimes you have to give up trying to figure everything out and just watch and enjoy the ride...

While Durant looks like just a mortal striving for some amazing, Lebron is beyond that and some people just can't take it.

Sure, he's physically gifted, but it's way more than that. It's the resolve and composure to excel that goes beyond every other random dude with "upside" and "potential". He isn't fully realized yet, but it's fun as hell to see these leaps.

At 2/21/2009 6:18 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I am almost unconvinced of myself here. Or maybe the MSG game works better for what I was trying to say. But the point isn't that LeBron is inauthentic, but that sometimes he plays in a way that isn't as LeBron as I feel he could be. Sure, that's showing range, but it's also kind of a smokescreen, at least as far as our style-psychology axis is concerned.

Also, the difference between "like a video game" for players and for us. I stand by that. And how that might be applicable to a game where you just can't miss a shot you usually don't rely on, as opposed to one where, in a concentrated burst, you go after that like it was your bread and butter.

At 2/21/2009 6:51 PM, Blogger Gabe said...

maybe it feels inauthentic in the sense that you want mythic figures to retain their flaws. Lebron with a consistent 3 game would almost be like Shaq if he shot 90% on FTs. Where is the fun in that?

At 2/21/2009 8:39 PM, Blogger Custom K said...

Also, Shoals are you really eschewing the Hollinger view of unheralded players meaning more to their team than hollow 20+ PPGers? I am excited about the coming Moneyball era in basketball. Thank God no one has figured out yet how to use steroids to benefit them in basketball. Though the roster will be transitory, the teams more skilled analytically should be more prone to the creation of Dynasty, which has historically best driven the growth of the League.

At 2/21/2009 9:20 PM, Blogger j said...

the cavs have the east "sewn up"...
while currently a half game back of boston?

At 2/21/2009 9:25 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Enjoy those weeks without Garnett. . .

Oh, and what no one accused me of—and what I was slightly worried I'd run into even as I wrote this—was that this is a high-flown variation on "falling in love with the jumper." I'm definitely not saying that. More "fucks around with it because he can and it's a new toy."

Again, though, if integrates the three into his overall game, and does have that swagger in it, then yes, he's the greatest player ever.

At 2/21/2009 9:50 PM, Blogger The Till Show said...

I believe Lebron's usage of the perimeter jumper is him still tinkering with a newly acquired skill. His stroke is gradually becoming more consistent. It's the staple of all great players--particularly the great SG/SF's. They use the off-season to discover a new facet of themselves, then proceed on their continued obliteration of the rest of the Association. I believe that's the same reasoning behind Kobe's increased use of the glass. The only difference is that Lebron hasn't fully perfected his form yet.

At 2/21/2009 10:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LeBron's greatness lies entirely in his inauthenticity; to transcend mere awe and enter a realm of "he's not supposed to do that because he's better at other things" catapults him to a level of hitherto unseen "boring" unstoppability. I understand the point here, Shoals. 50, 75 and I think even 100 points for LeBron is numbingly unconvincing. His body, mindset, and overall basketball ability is almost the "greatness" equivalent to saccharine sweetness. He is built to be the greatest basketball player to ever walk the earth; to watch him perform as such is not only boring, but it projects a nearly obnoxious quality. His game almost said, "Look here, three points is more than two, I should get to 50 faster this way. I don't have to shoot petty free throws. LeBron is not to be teased with decidedly archaic methods of scoring." I am presupposing that a player's game can actually be translated into language, and as such, the coup of the methods he employs is that they are wrought with such passive aggressive pretentiousness that he infuriates those who watch him because his game lacks character, and thus he possesses very little likeability. Therein lies the wretched gnawing at your basketball-watching psyche: the faster he knocks the flaws off his game much in the same vein that Ancient Rome conquered the world (slowly, but with a decidedly "this will happen, regardless" attitude [which also inspires the question, when, exactly, will LeBron's flaws (territories) re-appear?, towards the end of his rein, I suppose. Projection: age 34.]), the faster his relatability to mere mortals vanishes. Nike's old Jordan campaigns almost always strived to make him as human as possible. LeBron commercials seem to do the opposite; they isolate him from the world, as if Nike execs are so enamored by the pure perfection he exudes that they are too distracted to worry about how to properly market him. Almost like they're too embarrassed to suggest to him that he should consider himself "one of us". Think about his game as translated to language. Can people really like others who are so incredibly perfect in their word choice, attitude, and demeanor? No, we fucking despise them because they lack that quality of "character." We like Mickey Rourke because he's such a degenerate scumbag. He has flaws, scars and a checkered past. Of these, LeBron's game has none.

There, in so many words, is the greatness of LeBron.

At 2/21/2009 10:29 PM, Blogger Crabbie said...

d's point:

"While Durant looks like just a mortal striving for some amazing, Lebron is beyond that and some people just can't take it."

sums it up pretty nicely. This is why Durant is, in many ways, superior to Lebron as a dramatic figure, for the reasons Shoals highlights in his post and which I pretty much agree with wholeheartedly.

Not to put that aside, but to add to it, what's fascinating to me is that Durant has so many Jordanesque qualities - much more so than all of those "next Jordans" from the turn of the century - that it feels like in any normal era he'd eventually dominate the league the way Jordan did, especially given what looks to be eventually a superior supporting cast 3-12. I don't see Green, Westbrook, or whoever they draft being near as valuable than Pippen, but I can see Durant (and I realize that I'm blaspheming here) being more valuable than Jordan. The height, rebounding, and range are really just insane...

And all of this is occurring within the context of the move to Oklahoma fucking City, and Durant just really seems so much to be on some classic Toshiro Mifune shit. I haven't watched a Kurosawa movie in years, and I think that the analogy is quite apt. Especially since the Mifune performance that reminds me most of Durant is probably as the Hamlet analogue in Throne of Blood.

Which works with the Bron contrast, because what's fascinating about Durant is that he's not Jordan, without a real challenger to his throne, and he's not Bird, with an equal but not obviously greater or lesser star to match up against/trade titles with. He's struggling with otherworldly forces far greater than any man should have to deal with - a player so transcendent that it's just generally assumed that he will dominate basketball as no player ever has. How does a human, no matter his heroism, talent, or dedication, defeat a god?

Durant (should we say Durant & Presti?) vs. Lebron is on some Aeschylus shit, a Shakespearean tip, whatever comparison you want to make, it's vastly more interesting to me than Lebron vs. anyone else. It is (or will be/should be) the greatest of dramas, especially as sport has the benefit of being unscripted and endlessly surprising, and Lebron happens to, in fact, be human. So far as we can yet determine.

But I don't think it's necessary to be dismissive of Lebron, this risks getting into all of that Kobe/Lebron nonsense. Lebron makes me laugh and exclaim out loud and generally marvel every time I see him play. He's a god at play, and he will be a great and terrible thing if he ever gets "really" serious in the way everyone seems to be constantly expecting him to eventually be. Remember The Bacchae bitches.

Though now I'm remembering from Heaven and Here that Shoals isn't up on the Greeks. No shame in that, I guess. Who is, really?

WV: thaphro

At 2/21/2009 10:44 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Brief break from "live-blogging" OKC/GSW: Didn't we decide last week that Kobe/LeBron was an opposition between mortal and demi-god, a guy working to perfect himself and someone who is inherently perfect?

I agree that Durant is human, too. But whereas Kobe's was about his relationship to the Jordan paradigm, Durant's is actually like the humanity, the striving, that made MJ himself proudly "imperfect."

At 2/21/2009 10:49 PM, Blogger Crabbie said...

Durant's humanity is far more compelling to me, which is a matter of taste, and also much more sympathetic. Returning to Throne of Blood/Hamlet: Durant = Macbeth (without the whole pact with nefarious thing, but there's the whole Sonics thing, out of his hands as it was), Kobe = Lady Macbeth.

Or maybe Durant would be Banquo, or whoever the sidekick was. Presit = Macbeth? This is why comparative stuff is often so bankrupt.

WV: corks. that's it, just corks.

At 2/21/2009 11:12 PM, Blogger d said...

"Inherently perfect"? So we're going to discount that Lebron is by some accounts the first guy on the court before practice and the last guy off after it's over? And that he worked on his jumper a lot this summer?

He has supreme physical skills, yes, but he also works his ass off. All with the weight of an entire city, franchise and, in a way, league on his shoulders. What constantly amazes me is that at the age of 24 he is so focused and concentrated on what he wants to do with more pressure on him than Jordan ever had. Seriously, Cleveland doesn't have a winner very often.

And that's one way that he stands out compared to all of the other dudes that had amazing physical gifts but never the drive and will to be the best.

But yeah, I see the Durant/Jordan comparison. The more I type, the less I think we are disagreeing. I just don't think Lebron's talent is just something that was in him from birth. It's incredible to me that he's delivered this well considering everyone has told him since he was 18 that he's a basketball god.

At 2/21/2009 11:21 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

That was sloppy of me, and yes, LeBron's obviously worked on his shot, and I'd hate to go with the quasi-racist "it's all natural ability." Maybe more the "potential perfection." Also, with LeBron, since year two or so, we've known he'd win MVPs. Shortly thereafter, it became clear he'd get his rings, and be an All-Timer. Now, G.O.A.T. seems almost inevitable. He exudes all of that, always has. With Durant, we're in suspense at all times. And not just to see if he can measure up to Jordan's image (as we are with Kobe).

At 2/21/2009 11:42 PM, Blogger The Till Show said...

This Thunder/Warriors game is like looking at Chaos Present and Chaos Future. It looks like since OKC has G-State as a guide, they know not what to do (i.e. let KD take S-Jax-like horrendous shots). I agree that KD's internal fire is what pushes him to play beyond his humanly flaws.

As much as KD amazes me, I find myself in more awe of Westbrook.

At 2/22/2009 4:14 AM, Blogger milaz said...

I've been having some discussions about 50pt games since Kobe and then LeBron burnt the Knicks akin to the value of a single player reaching there Vs his status and the impact on the team.

I'd agree that "your three falling" is *not* as impressive as watching a player possessed with the desire to win or show no weaknesses. The same way that scoring 50 in a regular season game against this year's Knicks or Bucks is not as impressive as doing it in the playoffs or against Ewing's Knicks.... or on 35% FGs...

At 2/22/2009 4:57 AM, Blogger Mercurialblonde said...

If you watch that section of the game where he scored most of his points, which I get the sense, many of you did not. There's an anger in Lebron's aura, that I think keeps him from becoming as boring as Tim Duncan in terms of perfection. For that 3 minute stretch, Lebron was an angry afronted god, who was completely pissed that the Bucks would even deign be up on the Cavs by double digit points.

It was very old testament.

You see at one point, Lebron is so eager and impatient to get the ball in bounds so he can get another 3 up, he's falling over the scorers table as he inbounds it, and then runs in and gets the ball, like if you blinked it would look like he just inbounded the ball to himself. He seems to take some sort of perverse joy when he's hot, to take impossible shots, just to prove to the defense that they can do nothing about it.

I've always wondered at people who did not think Lebron has a killer instinct. I've usually see him as someone who is barely repressing some greater sense of injustice. If you look at his biographical arc, this is a man who as a boy, probably said that he was going to get revenge on the world for his situation. And that he would accumulate as much power as possible. But now that he's there, he really has a hard time balancing that against his smiling jokester side.

He's a complete menace. But I do think on some level, buying into the Lebron james experience--you have to have some sort of resentment of the Tim Duncan, Shaq--post Jordan, anti-AI era of the NBA. Maybe even now you resent Jordan for becoming a "right way" kind of guy. There's a sense where Lebron is cruel and awful revenge on a league that has mired itself in mediocre jordan shadows for so long.

I think if Kobe is something it's a kind of basketball ascetism. But with Lebron it's just straight up wrath. When you watch Kobe go off, there's a sense of watching a man alone. When you see Lebron do it, it's like watching a tornado destroy a small village.

This is born out in how he plays defense as well. He doesn't just block shots, he intimidates them. When he steals the ball, he seems to rip it out of the air, or out of the opponents hands.

At 2/22/2009 10:34 AM, Blogger StreakShooter McFloorburn said...

I think it may be time for one of those great graphs or Venn diagrams, with willpower & effort the two forces in play. All hyperbole aside, from an impressionistic standpoint, LeBron's most god-like games always feel like an extension of his willpower (no matter how he gets his points), while Kobe's seem more like hard work. I would argue that Durant is very close to LeBron in this respect, if not even more effortless in his great games. Jordan also was pure willpower, which is why I never felt comfortable comparing Kobe to him. Chris Paul, though an entirely different type of player, always looks like he's expending more effort than exerting his will to me, while Tim Duncan, however mechanical he may be, is definitely a willpower guy. What makes LeBron the most god-like is that you feel his force of will impacting the game even when he isn't playing well, which I can really only say about Jordan among all others discussed here. On the hyperbole side, Paul Pierce, who fears no mortal man, trembles before LeBron, therefore LeBron must be divine. Even in his commercials, LeBron seems to be trying to act human, rather than actually being human. That he affects silly frailties like fingernail-chewing only reinforces his obvious unearthliness. He must have a pretty fearsome intellect as well. Hell, if Travis Outlaw had the mind of any of the players I mentioned, he'd be top 5 all-time.

At 2/22/2009 1:23 PM, Blogger Alexander J said...

"And all of this is occurring within the context of the move to Oklahoma fucking City, and Durant just really seems so much to be on some classic Toshiro Mifune shit. I haven't watched a Kurosawa movie in years, and I think that the analogy is quite apt. Especially since the Mifune performance that reminds me most of Durant is probably as the Hamlet analogue in Throne of Blood."
Throne of Blood is a direct Macbeth analogy!

Durant is a beast; love to think about The Thunder in contention, but I don't actually care. Regular Season > dissapointing first round exit as an 8 seed to more complete squads. I've been on Denver's rollicking Rocky Mountain bandwagon ever since 'Melo arrived, and every year I watch the same mediocrity thrive. That was entirely too tangential, but all this iconic talk makes me a bit sick. Durant's star will shine in a wholly unique way, he has the power to take on the quest of dethroning MJ. I just wish people would understand that brilliance of the 2 year layoff period (economic crisis down the road causing similar issues for our boy KD?). Maybe Lebron's problem is that he is so fucking midwestern; global icon my balls man, he's some dude from Akron, Ohio. Have any of you ever been to Akron?

At 2/22/2009 6:23 PM, Blogger Daniel said...


Your KD and MJ comparison hit me like a fucking wall bricks, because a few weeks ago I was looking at that SI photo gallery of "Iconic UNC" pictures, and one particularily spindly 20 year old jump shooter seemed to stand out.


Yes, we've all seen this picture a zillion times, but seriously, how uncanny is the resemblence between 21 year old michael and KD?


Lebron didn't ever look like this. The reason Shoals and most of us have an innate tendency to think of him as arriving fully formed is because, in a sense, he literally did. The Lebron on the SLAM mag cover with bassy telfair in his Jr. Year at SVSM is the same Bron we see today, minus the beard. He wasn't a normal 17 year old (vast understatement).

All the knocks about Durant have to do with his frame, not having enough muscle, toughness, to go along with his length and shot. It's useful to remember at one time MJ looked exactly like KD does now, and ended his career a picuture of chiseled basketball muscle.

I kept looking at the pictures of Durant over All-star break trying to pin down who he reminded me off, Gervin and people like that were the obvious comparisons thrown around, but take a look at it all again and the possibility of KD, with all his fluid athleticism and natural feel for basketball could very well turn out to be a 6'10 version of Jordan.

Then we'd have a 6'9 DrJ/Karl Malone/Magic amalgam in his prime going up against a 6'10 "perfected" evolution of Jordan in his prime.

Fanciful? Yes. Ridiculous? I suppose. But Holy. Shit.

At 2/22/2009 9:16 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

These comments have been uniformly fantastic, so in a way, I guess this was all worth it. But damn, looking back at this post, the LeBron parts are absolute low point of my NBA writing career. Both because they suck, were uninformed, and were such a missed opportunity.

At 2/22/2009 10:58 PM, Blogger sky said...

LeBron has, since he entered the League, struck me as an Observer/Experimenter.

While others questioned his mindset when he sat on the sidelines biting his nails, I thought that he looked like someone who was watching the game unfold and storing away for later the bits that interested him. Kobe is perhaps this generation's ultimate Analyzer, and he too is obviously always watching and thinking, but I think what each does with that intel is different.

KB goes back to the gym and, as he perfects his next move, draws on that information so that he can anticipate all possible counter-moves, his potential counter-counter-moves, and all situations in which each perfected move could apply. I don't mean this to sound like a criticism, but everything he does in game is something that he's practiced.

But LBJ has something of the Nietzschean Experimenter in him. As others have noted, he obviously works on his skills; his improved shot, his beginning forays into the post, and his defense, among others, have all been on display this season. But sometimes he seems to decide, in the middle of the game, to try new things and find out what he can do. At those moments, he calls upon his work and his observations and unleashes something new. Sometimes it fails, but often it succeeds, and always it opens up new paths for him and makes his opponents less able to anticipate how to defend him. [A five-minute (or whatever it was) stretch of torrential 3-point shooting will make defenders question how much they can lay off him to defend against the drive.] It's one of the things that I find most compelling about him as a player: his willingness to try new and difficult things when the stakes are highest.

At 2/23/2009 12:57 AM, Blogger Marc said...

Yeah, Bethlehem, it's always seemed to me you have a big aesthetic blind spot as far as Lebron is concerned. I'm prejudiced since I watched him play in HS and had season tickets for his first three years in the NBA...but your inability to appreciate him may also be related to not having watched closely enough as he developed as a player (or having to suffer with his flaws).

A couple of tips:

--You can't just watch Lebron, you have to watch the Cavaliers. Cleveland's struggles (historically and also since he arrived) provide all the human failures you miss in him. The national media consistently refuse to see Lebron as geographically rooted, despite the drama of the saviour arriving in, of all places, downtrodden Northeast Ohio.

His challenge as a player is whether even his gifts will be enough to lift a team (and by extension a region) who have been so hapless. Game by game, you can watch him struggle to find the best way to meld his ridiculous individual gifts to bring team success. Cavs fans have known for years that the team often does better when Lebron goes 20/9/9 or some such than when he goes off for a 50 point game. There were years of watching him dribble away three quarters of the shot clock 25 feet from the basket, a habit he still reverts to sometimes.

--Your instinctive, unexamined negative reaction to his self-assurance, his confidence, his sense of personal destiny and the calm assumption of the responsibilities that go with it, is IMO a serious failure of imagination. Isn't the plucky eccentric underdog in some sense the biggest media cliche of all? Lebron is a refreshingly pre-modern figure in his serene, matter-of-fact sense of basketball divinity. What's most amazing about him is that he developed this sense despite being born as one of society's underdogs -- the homeless son of a ghetto single mother. He was already being stereotyped as another ignorant black kid spoiled and corrupted by inflated hype before he graduated high school. But his personal confidence is so deep, so calm, that he's seemed to exist on another plane from the hype and the pressure.

--finally, his game does reflect an eccentric and willful personal choice...it's just that he's so good it's hard to see the eccentricity in it. He's a natural power forward who grew up idolizing Jordan, AI, and other perimeter players, so he's willed himself into a shooting guard's game. His speed and passing ability have made that eccentric choice seem fated, but it wasn't. Watch him consistently and you can see plenty of problems (starting with his absurd lack of a post game). I'm pretty excited to see what he'll invent when either physical limitations or maturity take him away from that initial set of choices.

At 2/23/2009 1:02 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I have done more than my fair share of slobbering over LeBron. Much of it in the vein of what you accuse me of not getting.

I'm sorry for the travesty that was Saturday's post, but come on. I've written numerous times about how James transcends everything and everyone and remakes the game every time he takes the floor.

At 2/23/2009 2:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned the Game 5 King James Storms the Palace as the quintessential LeBron game? He got dunks in crunch time, but he also hit jumpers over the Pistons.


His last 30 points:
Layup And 1
3 pointer
Dunk over cowering Prince
Contested 22 ft jumper
Stepback 20 ft jumper, over Prince
22 ft jumper
Wing 3
Layup to win the game

5 jumpshots, including 4 in a row

Even back then, he demonstrated some use of the "shoot 3's when I have to"

At 2/23/2009 5:37 AM, Blogger knowing is maxo said...

I want to thank shoals for the original article, because I thought the Durant parts were phenomenal (I'd love to see them in some edited form), and often find myself repulsed from truly liking Lebron in a similar way. The comments have been great helping me work through it and really meditate on why I feel that way even though I know it's a flawed reasoning. I think the comparisons of Durant to Toshiro Mifune and Lebron / Kobe to God and Mortal are exceptionally interesting, but I have a different take on them.

I've always imagined Kobe as either a basketball samurai from the same mold as Musashi Miyamoto--someone that's content with his own mortality and has an insane drive to sharpen beyond its limits, and, in that way, something other than mortal. If Kobe is a character from a movie, I think he is the main character from SWORDSMAN (Musashi himself) or FIGHTER IN THE WIND (Karate's Musashi analogue).

I agree Lebron is a god, but I think he's a trickster god. A Loki, but benevolent and less nefarious. Someone who knows he could go toe to toe with Thor, but does it this way because it's just so much more fun.

I see a duality within Durant: On one side, a supremely powerful being...Lucifer from paradise lost thrown from heaven, standing atop the rubble that used to be a city, screaming at the sky as a dark, cold rain extinguishes the flames of his freshly wrought vengeance. That, or Beatrix Kiddo.

On the other side-- a singular comparison and not an archetype. Durant is Aeneas, the descendant of a god (Jordan), the survivor of the siege of a city on the coat Troy (Seattle). Pious, and with utter respect for powers greater than he, he nonetheless is a fearless warrior and a leader capable of motivating his men in the face of great adversity. His destiny is to lead his people to an unknown land and found a new society there (OKC). The Aeneid follows this journey and ends at the arrival of Aeneas, so perhaps what we are watching now are the growing pains he was bound to encounter as he tried to build a new empire from the ground up.

PS eight fingers bryant needs to be kobe's new nickname like he just became a character in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

At 2/23/2009 7:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gotta back up Shoals on this one. Everyone above has valid pro-deity/Bron sentiment, but the post was a little more esoteric than any of the follows here are.

Every time I watch Bron I notice the amount of time he spends on refs and complaining about calls. Another consistent is noticing the amount of times he travels or carries or otherwise breaks the rules while on offense.


Seriously. 3 complete and different steps. It's not new with Bron, his game winner against Wash a few years back was a clear travel. He's sort of clumsily adopting his body to basketball, whereas with Wade or Kobe there's a sense that they're built for the game/have perfected their body for the game. In either case, the beauty of Kobe's footwork exists and is relevant. Bron plays as a sort of hideous bludgeon; his game while otherworldly is far from the beauty that the elite for so long have had. That Wade is the player most copied and admired among the young shouldn't be overlooked, either: we of the older vanguard look to Bron for transcendence of the physical realm, a Bo Jackson for basketball, the younger kids want to emulate a player.

What irks both me and (I presume) Shoals is that there isn't a completeness in his game that allows him to shoot 3s so well. What that means is the vague, undefined feeling that sure, he can hit the gym and lock down his outside game, but that's still an ugly shot. That he has to learn to dribble without traveling first. He has to have a post game. He has to not cause offensive fouls when he drives the lane, and he needs to not whine and bitch when contact is made (On that point - dude is 6'9", 275 and all muscle - he really needs to cool it. Iverson, built like an Ethiopian bodybuilder, takes just as much contact and perpetually leads the league in minutes. So Bron needs to find finesse or stop whining). He's so close to achieving the sort of amazing greatness that seems more legendary than actually real that there's a feeling that in order to finally be called to heaven a la Moses without dying, he needs to perfect the game.

Shoals is arguing for basketball perfection, because Bron is physically already there. With Durant, we want to see the 20 additional pounds he'll pack on in 4 years, and see the game mature. But with James, the standards are higher. We don't want the 50 points, we want him to conquer our eyes AND our sense of wonder.

It's unfair. It's not even close to realistic. I agree that objectively, Bron is miles ahead of where I thought he could be, and a force of nature I never thought bball could have.

The point, in this rambling, ridiculous post, is that even immortals need to follow the rules, and if there isn't a beauty in James' game that inspires the way Wade or Jordan's does, than he can at least do us the service of being completely ineffable. That may sound sarcastic, but I mean it completely.

At 2/23/2009 8:32 AM, Blogger Steve said...

@ZombieJesus - Are you singling out Lebron for travelling? Have you ever watched tape from an NBA game? It's atrocious across the board. I don't think it's fair to complain that Lebron abuses the rulebook when everyone else is doing it too. Is he only great if he manages to avoid the advantage that everyone else takes? Shouldn't we call Wade for carrying the ball when he dribbles?

And I submit that few kids copy Lebron because Lebron doesn't have moves. With Kobe, it's all about moves, creating space and hitting a textbook jumper. With Lebron its all about abusing what you're given and making it happen somehow. You can practice what Kobe does if you take the time to study it, you can study Lebron all day long and still have no clue how he did something. And yes, I'd prefer the nation's youth not copy Lebron's form on jumpers.

At 2/23/2009 11:18 AM, Blogger John said...

man, I was going to read this this morning.

I guess I can't wait for FD

At 2/23/2009 11:21 AM, Blogger Marc said...

I have done more than my fair share of slobbering over LeBron. Much of it in the vein of what you accuse me of not getting.

Shoals, I think I didn't express my point well enough. Despite his manifold gifts Lebron is not, in fact, a god. His appearance of transcendence is a human accomplishment that he had to work for. It's also mixed with the human story of his place and setting. Your consistent theme with him is that he's a great player, sure, but there's no human story there that one can engage or identify with. I'm saying there's a failure of imagination there.

At 2/23/2009 11:30 AM, Blogger Marc said...

He's sort of clumsily adopting his body to basketball

Because he insists on playing more or less out of position. Anyway, I agree with Zombie Jesus -- that's a good summary of why I see Lebron as such a human player, his continuing challenge is to live up to his gifts. A problem might be that he is so good he could dominate the league without achieving his proper perfection.

At 2/23/2009 11:34 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Hmmm, that might be true. Though I think it's more that I'm preoccupied with the God-like LeBron, rather than averse to admitting he's had to work. Also, we're talking about appearances and symbolism, and contrasting him, at least the first time we did this, with Kobe.

I have decided, against all good judgment, to rewrite the original piece. Will post it later today.

At 2/23/2009 1:03 PM, Blogger DocZeus said...


"--You can't just watch Lebron, you have to watch the Cavaliers. Cleveland's struggles (historically and also since he arrived) provide all the human failures you miss in him. The national media consistently refuse to see Lebron as geographically rooted, despite the drama of the saviour arriving in, of all places, downtrodden Northeast Ohio.

His challenge as a player is whether even his gifts will be enough to lift a team (and by extension a region) who have been so hapless. Game by game, you can watch him struggle to find the best way to meld his ridiculous individual gifts to bring team success..."

I don't think you could have possibly said it any better and it's been something I've been trying to articulate for years to non-Cleveland based fans of the NBA about Lebron James and the way media portrays him.

Not to be utterly cliche, but Lebron James' narrative is the basic embodiment of the classic Judeo-Christian messianic story. Lebron's the bastard child of a poor single mother living in one of the most economically ravaged regions of the country where he is soon thrust into the spotlight at a young age because of his supreme athletic ability and preternatural basketball acumen where he's christened "The Chosen One" by Sports Illlustrated of all places at the age of 15. By sheer luck, he finds himself playing for the hometown team in a city that not only is economically downtrodden as it is but has not won a championship in any of the major sports in nearly 50 years. A place whose public and frequent sports failures and humiliations can simply described with phrases like "The Drive", "The Shot" and "The Fumble." That is deeply Jesus-like if you ask me.

All of Lebron's primary appeal would be instantly washed away if he were ever to leave Cleveland to go to a place like New York. He'd lose what makes him special and unique in order to complete his path to total corporate homogenization. His narrative changes from that of the Messiah leading the hopeless people of Cleveland to the promised land to that of Anakin Skywalker. A soulless, selfish figure willing to betray the region that raised him for more power and money. He'd basically become Kobe 2.0 and I don't think the world definitely does need another a Kobe. One is already enough.

It truly angers me when the national media disengenously pretends that everybody associated with the league whether it be David Stern, the corporate sponsors, Nike, the national media or even the fans are not desperately wanting Lebron James out of Cleveland. This possibly fabrication. He says Brooklyn is his favorite borough! He likes the Yankees! Clearly, he wants to play there. Nevermind, the fact, we've been basically suggesting Lebron would leave Cleveland 2.6 seconds after he was drafted by them. There appears to be a pervasive, insidious attitude that Cleveland is completely unworthy of having quite possibly a person who could end up as the great basketball player the world has ever known. Never mind, the fact that Lebron James leading his hometown out of 50 years of misery. We want Lebron James to win meaningless rings on the Knicks for a city that seems to win a championship every other year or so. Ugh, it just makes want to throw up.

At 2/23/2009 1:16 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Can we chill on these for like an hour, while I finish up my rewrite? I think I have some new elements to add to the discussion but have to drive to the car dealership.

At 2/25/2009 5:26 AM, Blogger Logan said...

The 3's were flippant.

... waxing philosophical about all this. Ol bullshit.

The more he does this sort of thing and combines it with a completely uncompelling mercenary attitude about his career, the less exciting everything will be. The 6 million dollar man was never as badass as the Hulk.

"ribless" is my verification word? Now THAT'S worth extrapolating.

At 2/25/2009 8:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the comment made about Lebron trying to act human in his commercials, wouldn't a less esoteric comparision for Lebron Superman?

Not the Shaq superman but the Superman from the comics, whose secret identity was that of a human and reflected his perceptions of our race.

That plus the whole thing about the overwhelming inherent power...

At 2/26/2009 3:15 PM, Blogger pkim said...

Yo Shoals, been reading your post for a long time. And, as a scholar and academic I think it was a fantastic post precisely because it generated a much more collaborative and cooperative analysis of Lebron. So, really, you could just take this entire thread and post it, because the level of precise discussion here is just fantastic (and it's a testament to the brilliance of your readers).

Anyway, quick thought in regards to Lebron, to stay on topic: it's hard to talk about Lebron without understanding his philosophies. I'm not an authority, but I'd love to understand differences between MJ, Kobe, and Lebron - especially with regards to Phil Jackson (the Zen Master). I know that "spirit" effects mentality greatly. The best players all have the abilities and skills to take over any game. I know that even Damon Jones has the ability to make an infinite number of 3's a game. But it's all in the matter of the mental/spritual aspect. It's like Tiger Woods - every shot he takes he invests everything into it. It is a separate moment, it has nothing to do with anything before and after. He plays each shot as if it was the end of the world. MJ could do that, Kobe does it when he scores 80+ points. I think what you want from Lebron (and I do too) is a personal transcendence to this level where he can take take every possession and make it its own intricate tiny moment of brilliance. But yeah, I think we've covered quite a bit.


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