Archive for June, 2013

All rise to the King

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 June 22nd, 2013 Aabhas Sharma

With 35:20 seconds to go and the score 90-88 in the riveting Game 7 of the NBA finals between San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, Spurs’ power forward Tim Duncan had a chance to tie the game. It was an easy jump shot – one which could be termed as Duncan’s bread and butter – but somehow Duncan missed it. Duncan knew, Spurs knew, the Heat knew and almost everyone watching the game knew, Spurs had blown their chance. A frustrated Duncan went back to help his team on the other end of the court and slammed the floor in frustration. Seven seconds later, Heat’s superstar and the best basketball player in the world, LeBron James sunk in a basket to make the score 92-88. The Heat ended up winning their second consecutive NBA title 95-88, largely due to an excellent performance by James. He scored 37 points, collected 12 rebounds and made four assists in what will go down as a career-defining performance for the Miami star. Where Duncan missed, James scored. The finals which Heat won 4-3 in a best-of-seven series, the margins were really this close.

James, despite being one of the most talented players to have come out in the last 20 years, doesn’t get the respect. Frankly, even I am guilty as charged on that count. There’s something about James which is unlikeable. You don’t seem to warm to him. But James has certainly shut up the doubters, myself included with some superb performances in the 2012-13 season.

He started off as a hot-shot upstart with Cleveland Cavaliers. For seven years, James carried Cleveland but never had the team to make the final push for the title. That James was a superstar in the making was too obvious, even when he was at Cleveland; he became the youngest player to reach the 15,000 points mark in NBA history, won two Most Valuable Players (MVP) awards in 2009 and 2010 and was on the All-Star team for six consecutive seasons.

In 2010, when James was a free agent, he decided to join the Miami Heat and bore the ire of disgruntled Cavaliers’ fans. That his decision was telecast live by ESPN in an unimaginatively titled programme “The Decision” didn’t help him to gain popularity. James was criticized heavily for being arrogant and making a show of something which hundreds of players do every season. The money generated through advertising and other revenue streams through the programme was given to different charities was barely mentioned.

James has been the stand out performer in NBA for the last six-seven years. Since his move to Miami, he and the Heat have reached three NBA finals and won two of them. When James won his first title in 2012, he said it was the toughest thing he had ever done. History, however, tells us that the tougher thing to do is retaining the crown. Sport is full of examples where a player or a team has had one unbelievable season to win a title. Thomas Muster was the king of clay for a short period of time in the 1990s. Manchester City were destined to be the new tour de force in English football last year after dramatically winning the English Premier League title. Damon Hill was supposed to be a Formula One legend when he became a champion in 1996. Yet they never managed to build a legacy as they failed to live up to their triumphs.

James could have easily fallen into the same category if Heat hadn’t retained the title. There would have always been questions about his ability if not for back-to-back titles. The two men he is often compared to – Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant – did that on two occasion. Jordan, in fact, won it three times in a row from 1991-93 and 1996-98.

Basketball fans and experts, surprisingly, haven’t given up on the idea of finding the next Michael Jordan. That search, in my opinion, is quite futile as Jordan is not only the greatest basketball player of all-time but is also arguably the greatest athlete of all-time (more on that in this post I wrote four years ago: (http://blogs.business-standard.com/aabhas-sharma/2009/08/08/jordan-is-the-goat/).

James is a supremely talented basketball player, who is perhaps at the peak of his prowess. The next Jordan will be impossible to find. Maybe there’s a need to find the next LeBron James. Going by James’ performances in the last few years, even that search could prove a lot more difficult than it actually seems.