I hate LeBron James with a passion. Both the person, and the concept behind him. However, nowawdays, I think I understand.
I mean, he was coming out of high school right around when Kobe was in controversy over the rape accusation. Let's face it, the NBA is a business, and profits therefore marketing is David Stern's main objective. With Kobe's reputation seriously damaged at the time, Stern needed a fresh look, a new face of the NBA. LeBron James was the best choice. Not necessarily because of his skill level, but because he was the most marketable.
Stern would've wanted a new look, and thus he'd be after a rookie coming in, not a veteran, in order to gain new fans gathering around a new young phenom. Wade wasn't well-known enough (he was *right* there after winning the Championship in 06 with his superhuman effort, but injuries screwed that all up), Carmelo was nearly there for a while before image and maturity issues started cropping up. LeBron, however, was perfect for Stern.
LeBron's style of play was flashy, with the highlight reel dunks etc; he filled up the boxscore. He broke convention, being a 6'8" player coming out of high school playing point guard, being on most draft boards listed as a PG/SG; thus arousing curiousity amongst even the most casual of fans. He was a conversation-starter and a discussion topic, as Sports Illustrated and the like were doing covers on him. And, even more important, he had no publicised issues, he was almost shown to be a perfect human being in a way, like the media did to Jordan once upon a time. What's more, his style of play made him a walking mismatch, thus leading to double-teams and switches getting his teammates easy buckets, making many NBA fans think at first glance he was a perfect leader and teammate as well, making his teammates better.
The mass media, seeing all the same things Stern did, immediately jumped on the bandwagon, bringing millions of innocent basketball fans and casual readers along with them.
Even when Kobe came back into golden boy status, and LeBron still hadn't shown himself capable of winning big, David Stern and the media had spent too much money marketing LeBron, so they they weren't going to stop just like that. Somewhere along the line, someone would have had the idea that an another great rivalry, marketed to sound like the Magic/Bird days of old, would be great for the NBA., thus we are at the modern point where the two are constantly referred to as rivals despite having met less than 14 times over their careers and never in the playoffs.
One may wonder that if they are to be labelled as 'rivals', why LeBron is hyped more than Kobe. It's simple, it's a handicap in LeBron's favour. As Kobe already has 4 Championships, several records in the annals of history, a monopoly on the numbers 24 and 81, etc., he would simply be 100 times more well-known than LeBron if not for media intervention. Same goes for the Lakers compared to the Cavs. We made the Finals in 07/08, despite injuries, and thus were quite often considered favourites to win in 08/09. We won in 08/09, thus favourites to win it all at the start of this season. And let's not even bother mentioning all their history. The Cavs haven't been to the Finals once in this time (the Lakers' latest period of relevance), nor have they won a Championship, ever. Thus, the Cavs and Lebron are both hyped far more than us as they need to hyped as such in order for the general public to believe they are our equals/rivals
The one true knock I see against LeBron is his seeming lack of respect for the game. From refusing to shake hands then being as downright ignorant as to say 'it isn't done'; to joking around and dancing on the bench during blowouts, the kid seems to have little or no respect for the game and that's simply deplorable and inexcusable.
Many would point to his ego as another one of his 'fatal flaws' (reference to high school literature concepts for the win ;) ), however, I understand it. Think about it; if you had been constantly told by everyone since you were about 15 that you were the greatest basketballer they had ever seen, that you would go down as one of the greatest of all time, that you were the 'Chosen One'; much of this before your senior year, even; you'd believe it. You'd almost be brainwashed into being arrogant as hell. As an impressionable high school kid, it'd be impossible to avoid.
That hype is ongoing, thus increasing his arrogance of late ('I'm the leader of the Olympic team', the 'Check My Stats' t-shrt, etc). And, to be fair, he did a while back say he thought Kobe was better than him. Personally, I don't think Kobe's the only one (Wade, Duncan, Garnett when younger, Chris Paul, Nash, Bosh), but at least he answered that with the correct answer, even if he didn't believe it personally at least he said the right thing in public.
The 'he's still getting better' cliche about LeBron does piss me off, but I can see where that's coming from, too. As the hype around him always grows, it is humanly impossible for him to play to the level of the hype, thus those who spread the hype cling blindly to the belief he's still getting better and therefore will end up matching expectations.. Now, I'm not one to pay too much attention to stats, but most LeBron>Kobe homers are; and the raw stats show him at a near flatline for the last few seasons, and a visible drop from last season to this (I'm not gonna mention PER, no offense to Hollinger, but his system doesn't work, it's impossible to use a formula to come up with a single number like that to define a player). Even if he did improve, hype and expecations would continue gaining at an even faster pace, thus leading to people always believing he is still getting better.
Now, to the meat of the matter: Before, I mentioned several players whom I believed to be better than LeBron? Why? They are downright better skillwise. No-one except for maybe Dwight Howard can compete with LeBron's raw combination of size, strength, speed and athleticism. Lebron's known this since high school, therefore he's never worked on his fundamental skills too much. While this is pathetic when compared to someone like Kobe, who'll win a championship and Finals MVP and then still go off to learn some new moves; it's understandable (it's also one of the reasons I believe LeBron will never improve too much from last season).
The result of this is that skillwise, he's simply nothing extraordinary. He's currently nearly 6'10", around 280 pounds, bigger than most centers, yet he hasn't developed any sort of a decent post game. He played point guard in high school, and thus handles the ball more than any non-point guard in the league in the NBA, but, as famous trainer Idan Ravin told him, 'your dribbling isn't that good, you look down at the ball a lot'. Basic defensive principles teach you that if your man is fast but cannot shoot, you play off him and he'll be limited; yet LeBron's jumpshot is mediocre at best (he is improving, to his credit). Defense wins championships, thus it's fitting LeBron doesn't have one. Frankly, there are many players in the NBA (and EuroLeague etc) that are better fundamental-wise than LeBron, but his raw athleticism makes up for that and puts him up there with some of the best.
And what does the casual fan (the majority) like to see? Perfectly set picks, or highlight-reel dunks? Exactly.
Just some thoughts :-)
Hopefully, the next time you see some talking head hyping up LeBron and your blood pressure rises, you'll remember this explanation as to why they do so, and calm down. Who knows, I may even save some lives through heart attacks avoided. ;D
Saurav A. Das, Laker Fan for life
"Nothing beats the sound of a basketball bouncing on the hardwood."
P.S: It's my first fan post, so constructive criticism is greatly appreciated.
DISCLAIMER: Every time I say something like 'David Stern thought' or 'the Media figured', I'm not implying that I KNOW they did so, I'm just saying that it's what I believe as it seems like the most logical explanation. Nor am I implying some sort of massive conspiracy or lending any credence to the league-organised corruption of refs conspiracy theory (you guys still haven't explained how the goddamned Spurs won 4 championships or the star-studded Lakers in 04 lost to the Pistons ^.- ), what I believe David Stern to be doing is just basic marketing, promoting his product to maximise profits. Nothing shady. Nor was I implying the Media and David Stern were working together in the hyping of LeBron, just that they had the same idea for the same reasons. Business-wise, it made perfect sense for both of them. Essentially, very little of this is solid facts, it is primarily a post of opinions, theories and conclusions made through common sense and an understanding of psychology and business.