Lebron James is the NBA’s most dominant player and has been for quite some time now. I don’t need to tell you about how he does it all and established the three as the most must-have position in championship caliber basketball. I don’t need to tell you about the dunks, the threes, the departures and the rings. I do need to tell you that the Lebron James we’re watching this year is far different from any we’ve seen in the past and it’s all for the best. While the numbers would tell you that this is possibly the closest thing we’ve seen to a spectator season in the career of Lebron James (save for his rookie year), the Cavs success of late tells you otherwise. Yes, it took some time to get hot, but, hey, it even took MJ a whole half-season to get used to returning to Chicago in ’94. So, yes, just as MJ returned the team he left to dominance, Lebron will run away with this season’s title. The reasons are simple, and the comparisons endless.
I firmly believe that the best basketball MJ ever played didn’t come until he came back to the Bulls in 1994. Stats would tell you otherwise, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a sports fan, it’s that stats can lie. Before he retired (for the first time), MJ put up eye-popping point averages, soaring as high as 37.1 ppg. He absolutely dominated. As a result, he won three straight titles. But you knew that.
The reason the best basketball of Michael Jordan’s career came after his first retirement was his maturity in leadership upon his return. Don’t get me wrong, #23 has always been the greatest leader to ever play the game, but watching the Bulls play, one couldn’t help but notice the father figure he developed into for the young Bulls players of the team’s second three-peat like Luc Longley and Tony Kucoc. That’s why the Bulls were most dominant in this era. While 37 points per game turned into 29, MJ turned into a role-model and a player with nothing in his DNA other than a burning desire to win (not that the latter hadn’t always been there). The Bulls didn’t win 72 games in 1992 and they didn’t win 72 games in 1991. The Bulls did win 72 games in 1996, when, at 33 years old, he put up the second lowest scoring total of his career since his sophomore campaign of ’86.
Enter Lebron James, the greatest physical specimen to hit the NBA ever. This locomotive on legs has the body to bruise you, the IQ to execute and the skills to make defenders fall. To top it off, he now has his team, and that’s why these Cavs have been so good of late and will endure more success than any roster King James has ever been apart of. You see, while Lebron is throwing in a career low 5.2 value-over-replacement-player this season (compared with an average of 11.6 in Miami), his Cavs are ripping off decisive wins over the NBA’s hottest teams, most notably a 111-89 demolishing of the Grizzlies, the league’s third best team by record, and an absolute thrashing of the league’s best-record-team, that saw the King himself go for 42.
But even this doesn’t explain why these Cavs are going to win this title, and likely the next few, as much as JR Smith does. JR was practically booed out of New York. He chucked shots like few, he played no defense, didn’t seem to care and, in short, seemed to summarize the Knicks’ woes while he was there. Smith is now, without a doubt, playing what is absolutely the best basketball of his career. I mean that. He is putting up career highs in almost every form of efficiency stat imaginable and turned the ball over more times in the few weeks he was a Knick this season than in his entire stay in Cleveland. That’s absurd. What’s the change?
As I said before, enter Lebron James. These Cavs are the hottest team in basketball because of the culture Lebron has established on a team that is not only talented, but entirely his own. His first go around in America’s most mediocre city saw Mo Williams as the saddest excuse for an elite team’s #2 guy I’ve ever seen, and Miami, though Lebron’s team, was Dwyane Wade’s city and Dwyane Wade’s locker room because, well, he was there first. This group of Cavaliers, however, is young, gifted (Kyrie is an absolute beast this season) and above all, completely subservient to the locker room of Lebron James. He has instilled confidence and a win-now mindset in this young group that is extremely comparable to MJ’s second tour in the Windy City. While they both parted the teams that drafted them for different reasons, they both returned and that’s all that matters. What I’m trying to say is, don’t let the statistics lie to you; Lebron is the most dominant player in basketball, playing the best basketball of his career on the team that jumps when he says jump. Air Jordan will tell you that this is the winning formula, unless you’re coming off of two major injuries and can’t take a hint.