The Accelerated Growth Curve of LeBron JamesLeBron James is a on a fast track to greatness that is unparalleled in NBA history. There have been younger players who led teams to the NBA Finals and there have been players who led teams to the NBA Finals prior to their fourth season but no one who is this young and has only been in the NBA for four years has led a team to the NBA Finals without the benefit of playing alongside at least one future Hall of Famer. Bill Russell won a championship as a rookie, but he played alongside several Hall of Famers; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won a championship in his second season but he had Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson at point guard; Magic Johnson won a championship as a rookie but he teamed up with Abdul-Jabbar, the regular season MVP that year; Larry Bird won a championship in his second season but he was paired with future Hall of Famers Nate Archibald, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.
I discuss James' stunningly quick ascent to NBA glory in my newest article for NBCSports.com:
The Accelerated Growth Curve of LeBron James
James has distinguished himself not only with his skills but also with his poise. Consider this telling sequence from Game Six versus the Pistons. Rasheed Wallace committed his sixth foul by throwing James to the floor. James calmly stood up and for a moment the players were right next to each other but looking in different directions—-literally and figuratively. Wallace promptly lost control of his emotions, wildly yelling at the officials and getting ejected, earning his seventh technical foul of the playoffs and ensuring that if Detroit made it to Game Seven that he would be unable to play due to a mandatory suspension. Meanwhile, James assembled his teammates and told them to stay calm and not get caught up in the emotion of the moment. The great tennis champion Bjorn Borg was known for his ability to stay poised during tough matches and to remain calm while volatile opponents like Ilie Nastase and John McEnroe had Rasheed Wallace-like temper tantrums. When I spoke with Cavaliers General Manager Danny Ferry prior to Game Six, he rejected a James-Borg comparison, telling me that James is "far more vocal and demonstrative than Bjorn Borg." That is true but it is also true that basketball, which has more physical contact than tennis, lends itself more to emotional expression. This season we saw Carmelo Anthony lose his cool and get suspended for 15 games and we saw Amare Stoudemire get suspended for a playoff game because he could not control his emotions. James did not overreact to Wallace’s foul, nor did he lose control in previous playoff games when Antonio McDyess and Mikki Moore committed hard fouls against his teammates. I agree with Ferry that James’ demeanor is not totally emotionless like Borg’s but James has great poise and self-control, both in terms of rallying his team from a 2-0 deficit against the heavily favored Pistons and in terms of not letting himself get caught up in the emotions of hard fouls. By the way, Borg was a prodigy in his own right, one who never lost a match to a younger player until he had been a professional for many years. It does not seem likely that a team led by a superstar who is younger than James will beat Cleveland any time soon, either.
What impresses Hall of Famer Hubie Brown the most about James is how successfully he deals with any kind of defensive pressure that is placed against him, especially considering that, in Brown's opinion, Cleveland's roster is not that much better than it was last year (I spoke with Brown before Daniel Gibson's outstanding Game Six performance): "Their first unit is not that much better than it was a year ago. But what has happened now is this young man has taken his game to a whole new level again, taking that next step. What he has done in Games Three, Four and Five, with the 35 points (per game) and the eight or nine rebounds and then the nine assists, is incredible...You have to give him a lot of credit for not only the scoring but the fact that he is going against three guys: the trap and then the rotating big guy below the trap, five to ten feet behind the trap, ready in case he turns the corner. He’s really playing, on every possession, one against three, whether it is on the side or whether it is at the top."
posted by David Friedman @ 4:54 PM